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Barrie, Ont. council to vote on banning residents giving necessities, food to homeless on public property


The City of Barrie is set to vote Wednesday night on whether to prevent the distribution of food, tents and other items to homeless individuals on public property -- a proposal heavily criticized by the federal housing advocate.

The city north of Toronto passed a motion last month directing staff to investigate and take action on several initiatives aimed at addressing what it called the "chronic homeless situation" in Barrie.

The city wrote on its website that part of that motion included proposed changes to bylaws to ban the distribution of food and grocery items in public spaces, and prohibit the use and distribution of tents or tarps on public land, including parks.

"The bylaw provisions only apply to distributing from city property," it wrote.

"Organizations would be able to continue their food outreach programs on their own property or any property in the community not owned by the city where permission for such distribution to occur has been granted."

The office of Barrie Mayor Alex Nuttall did not immediately provide comment.

The city noted that current bylaws already prohibit individuals or corporations from distributing food and supplies on city property but allow charitable organizations to do so.

"The change is to extend the prohibition to all organizations," it wrote. Penalties will be applied if the new rules, if passed, are not followed.

The bylaw amendments are set to be considered at a council meeting Wednesday night.

Federal housing advocate Marie-Josee Houle called on Barrie's council and mayor to vote against those amendments, saying they would create new barriers for vulnerable homeless people.

"These measures would severely restrict access to basic shelter and food for people living in local homeless encampments and, as such, are in direct contravention of international human rights standards," she wrote in a letter, a copy of which was also sent to Ontario Premier Doug Ford.


Houle, who was appointed by the federal government in February 2022 to lead the newly formed Office of the Federal Housing Advocate, said Barrie's councillors need to meaningfully engage with homeless individuals, community organizations and stakeholders before making decisions that affect them.

She recognized the motion also aimed to address the homelessness crisis by ordering council to appeal for funds from the provincial government to establish "cooling and warming centres as well as the provision of central food distribution away from public parks and other public spaces."

"However, the lack of adequate indoor shelter spaces in the city could result in a dangerous displacement of your most marginalized residents," she wrote.

Barrie is obligated "to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of encampment residents," Houle wrote.

The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness was similarly concerned about the proposed bylaws in Barrie.

"This bylaw is a clear-cut violation of basic human rights and a shocking criminalization of people experiencing homelessness," Tim Richter, the organization's CEO, wrote in a statement.

"This is an assault on basic human decency, it hurts people who are already suffering and will make the life-threatening experience of homelessness that much more dangerous."

Houle, the federal housing advocate, launched a review of homeless encampments in Canada earlier this year, calling the situation a human rights crisis fuelled in part by the failure of all levels of government to provide adequate housing.

In December, the Ontario Human Rights Commission said ongoing consultations have revealed that desperate situations -- including a lack of affordable housing, economic inequality and gaps in mental health and addiction care -- are leading to people living in encampments.

It urged that solutions to homelessness and encampments be grounded in human rights-based approaches, delivered with respect and compassion.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2023. Top Stories

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