Friday, August 24, 2007

Homelessness is not a Crime

Written by Lee Stevens -- Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre. Staff. Afternoon Shift

One evening while I was working during supper service a client approached me and asked if he could use the washroom. I opened the door for him to use the intox washroom when he muttered “I certainly don’t want to get another fine” I asked him for more clarification when he pulled out a ticket for $300 he had just received for urinating in public. “I just really couldn’t hold it since I just got surgery on my bladder” he explained then lifted up his shirt and revealed his surgical scar to me. Even if this guy didn’t have bladder complications the absurdity that a person who is homeless would actually be issued the maximum amount for a fine of this type I immediately joined in on his frustration, until he interrupted me “I really gotta go.”

That incident took me back to November 20, 2006 when it became illegal in Calgary to spit, urinate, defecate, sleep on benches in public or even put your feet up on any city structure. These restrictions were enforced under the bad behavior bylaw number 54M2006. Individuals who are caught demonstrating “bad behavior” will face fines ranging from $50 to $300 and even up to six months in jail based on the Calgary housing action initiative forum, 2006. I first heard about this new bylaw when I was at work, and was quick to realize that this bylaw was clearly targeting the homeless.

From watching the news I was furious to hear that the policy makers from city council claimed that the new bylaw had nothing to do with the homeless, and that it’s intent was to prevent people on the red mile from behaving badly. I believe the bad behavior bylaw was proposed by those who are fed up with the increasing numbers of homeless individuals who are panhandling and loitering in the city streets, and instead of attacking the root cause of this issue city council has decided to punish those who are homeless.

The city of Calgary’s most recent statistics of the homeless population in Calgary are staggering. The number of homeless individuals recorded in Calgary is 3,436, an increase of 32.3% since 2004. [Ed. Note: it is estimated the homeless count has risen by 15% in the intervening year since the official 2006 Homeless Count by the city of Calgary.] The number of homeless persons enumerated on our streets [those not sleeping in a shelter] was 429 which is an increase of an alarming 237.8%!

Surely people who work in the downtown core have noticed the increase of homeless living on the street, and it is no coincidence that this bylaw was introduced at a time of sharp increase in the number of homeless people. It is precisely these homeless individuals who are most at risk of being caught urinating, defecating, and spitting since they have nowhere else to perform these necessary bodily functions. By penalizing individuals from sleeping on benches, panhandling, and loitering in public places the city is attempting to “hide” the fact that they have done little to solve the housing crisis; it is also a case of out of sight out of mind.

It has been suggested that the bad behavior bylaw infringes on human rights, and essentially makes it illegal to be homeless. The Canadian Charter of Rights guarantees the right to life, liberty, and security, as well as equality of rights without discrimination.

As an advocate for the homeless I am strongly against this bylaw. Since it has been passed, and in addition to the most recent case another client has been issued a ticket for $80 for spitting in a garbage can. The ticket read “improper disposal of waste.” I am sure many other fines will surface as a result of this bylaw with people who cannot pay them because they are homeless. The effects of the bad behavior bylaw on the homeless population is an example of how social policy can actually create more barriers for the most vulnerable members of society, and why it is so important to solve the causes of homelessness instead of the effects.

Written By: Lee Stevens


Tso, W. (2006) Public behavior bylaw passes despite charter issues. Retrieved March 18,
2007 from

The City of Calgary. (2006) Retrieved March 18, 2007 from

Calgary housing action initiative. (2006). Retrieved March 18, 2007 from

Written by Lee Stevens, Caglary Drop-In & Rehab Centre. Staff. Afternoon Shift

Disclaimer: The views posted on this blog are the personal views and commentary of the individual writers.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you 100 percent!

Anonymous said...

dude i just got a 300$ ticket for urinating in public, and i know it sounds like an excuse, vut it is not. I COULDN'T hold it, and the police just showed up, i feel like a dumbass, but it was impossible to not do it. now i have to pay it, and it's frustrating. I'm not homeless but i agree with you too, 100% percent!