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FORUM: Excessive force will not solve a housing crisis (July 2021)

August 16th, 2021 · No Comments

The violent eviction of homeless from parks is shameful

By Mike Layton

The violence and tactics on display by the City of Toronto in Trinity Bellwoods Park, Alexandra Park and Lamport Park this month is a deeply troubling use of resources and force. The number of armed police present to forcefully remove handfuls of residents experiencing homelessness is disgraceful. 

It is an obvious attempt to make poverty and homelessness invisible.

Considering the number of truly pressing issues plaguing the city, it speaks loudly to our real priorities that this is where resources are deployed. 

It didn’t have to be this way and we cannot police our way out of poverty.

Housing everyone using a human rights approach should be the only way forward. 

In council I proposed another path, and supported other motions which would have worked to restore trust and dialogue with the goal of connecting people to housing and shelter.

This approach has been championed by Leilani Farha, an Ottawa-based lawyer who served as Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination at the United Nations for 6 years. 

Housing must be recognized as a human right, not a commodity or an extractive industry as it has been historically. 

We must restore the understanding of housing as home, challenging the ways financial actors have undermined the right to housing and land use processes. 

Using a human rights framework, we can provoke action to end homelessness, lack of affordability, and encampment evictions in Toronto.

In my discussions with encampment residents, I have come to understand better that these individuals are afraid for their health and safety and worried about their future. 

There are many that will not go to shelters and without understanding that point better, we will only be criminalizing their behaviour instead of trying to resolve the deeper issues that are keeping them outside.

Sadly, city council and Mayor Tory voted against my proposal to co-create a path to housing collaboratively with those in encampments from a human rights approach and the other motions aimed to move the city past this antagonistic relationship, and instead supported a “zero-encampments” policy. Here we are.

I have worked with my colleagues to amplify the voices of the disadvantaged and have called on the mayor to work to cease the encampment clearings immediately and pursue the options presented by myself and other housing advocates immediately. 

I know that this does not correct the wrongs that have already occurred, but it will be a start toward trying to rebuild a broken relationship. 

As for those who orchestrated  the police violence against encampment residents, I will continue to hold them responsible at council. 

Things needs to change. 

I will continue to work from within and against the system, striving to defund the police regardless of the inertia from city council. 

What happened, and has been happening, is wrong and needs to stop.

Mike Layton is the city councillor for Ward 11, University—Rosedale.

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Tags: Annex · Opinion