Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Should the homeless be allowed to risk life and limb by sleeping outside in cold weather?

Should we, the righteous, be allowed to intervene?

Do civil rights trump the preservation of life?

These are just a few of the questions being raised by the prospect of a new law in BC that would allow the police to take homeless people to shelters against their wills when the weather is miserable and life-threatening.

Somehow we must find a balance as a community between the extremes of a jackboot police state that is only concerned about cosmetics and a laizzez-faire do-nothing society that allows people to die in our streets in the name of freedom.

This is what I think.

Police and others should be encouraged to actively try to get homeless people into shelters as often as possible even when the weather is not particularly life threatening. If that makes police occasional social workers, so be it. Often, they are already being social workers and that's fine.

If a street person absolutely and resolutely refuses to move to an offered shelter, what are we supposed to do? Some would argue that we must act on that person's behalf and move him or her to safety against his or her will. He hasn't the clear mental capacity to make the decision for himself, goes the argument.

I would say that only in the rarest of instances should we use force and compel the move.

What are those rare cases?

I can't say.

But when it comes to life and death decisions, people on the front lines, like the police, make these choices quite often, usually unnoticed and unheralded.

I think the guiding principle should be encouragement, rather than law and force. And active, regular encouragement. Deliver the message on a daily basis that living on the street is not the best idea and that alternatives exist. If, in fact, they do exist.

If, on rare occasion, force or law is brought into a situation as a last resort, I will have o judge that moment when I see it.


Jeff Taylor said...

I'm torn over this whole thing. On one hand, I'm a firm believer in the rights we as citizens have to make legal choices on how we live our day to day lives. On the other hand, I'm 100 percent so sick of our streets over-run with crime and bullies etc. One thing I can say for sure is that can you imagine the police scooping up one of these homeless people against their will and dropping them off at a shelter that more than probably won't be staffed or equipped with the resources to handle a person that will more than liking become angry and violent because they are being forces to do something they don't want to do. Shelters are currently place where people that want to go there go. They are not set or in fact equipped to become temporary prisons.
Another thing about this issue to keep a very close eye on is how the police handle their power. How cold will it have to be before they enact that power ? How deep will the snow have to be before they make a decision to move these people into shelters ? What type of person will in their eyes be targeted to be moved ? Many. many questions on this issue to be sure.

Robert Brown said...

We have shelters? Enough to handle all the people who have decided to live on the street? I doubt it and I am certain that there is no way to keep them there if they do not want to stay.

Chris M said...

Why the hell are we expecting cops to be social workers,psychiatrists and the ultimate authority on who to take off the street?
Because nobody else will do anything it seems.
The politicians should be the ones going out and deciding who should go into these facilities!
I wonder how long they'd last on a city street if they were shouted at, pestered, and assaulted.
The first meth addict that tried to physically assault them would send them scurrying home to their safe,protected world.
I don't think any of them could handle one night on the street without their protection(bodyguards, media,police escort, etc.)

Anonymous said...

I too wondered why people would choose to stay on the street instead of go into a shelter - so I asked. You can't bring any belongings into a usual shelter so that man in the photograph ~? He would lose his stuff. A grocery cart of "junk" may not be of value to me but it may be of great value to that man. Also - many homeless people have pets - not allowed in a the usual shelter. So - if this bylaw takes effect we are violating that person's rights to their own property...and not just that, but violating their rights to free choice.