Fair Change Community Services

asking Toronto for a little fair change

Month: December, 2014

Panhandling Law Wastes Tax Money, Hurts Homeless

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Anti-panhandling legislation in Ontario is costly and ineffectual. These are the results of a recent study done on the Ontario Safe Streets Act (SSA). Implementing the Act has cost Ontarians close to $1 Million. The fines or jail time for panhandling are given to people who are largely homeless, mentally ill and/or suffering from addictions. The fines given out so far total over $4 million. Almost none of that money has been collected, showing that as a penalty, fines do not work on panhandlers.

 

If panhandlers are not homeless they soon might be. The maximum penalty for panhandling is 6 months in jail. When jail over 30 days is imposed social assistance programs like ODSP and OW stop paying rent for the incarcerated person. This can lead to eviction, so when they are released panhandlers are forced back onto the street, actually increasing homelessness.

 

Outstanding panhandling fines count against a driver’s license, so the SSA makes it harder for homeless people to find jobs, keeping them on the street longer.

Fair Change Community Services is a free legal clinic that helps people to fight panhandling tickets and reduce debt from past, unpaid tickets. As a member of the Coalition to Repeal the SSA, Fair Change calls upon the Ontario Government to take action against this wasteful and hurtful legislation.

To download the study visit: http://www.homelesshub.ca/caniseeyourID

You can view the Coalition’s Website here: http://www.homelesshub.ca/RepealSSA

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How to address Panhandling Without the SSA

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“IF WE REPEAL THE SSA HOW WILL BUSINESSES AND COMMUNITIES BE ABLE TO ADDRESS UNWANTED PANHANDLING?”

It’s a fair question here is the answer

1. Other legislation exists to deal with behaviour that is problematic

        Sections of the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) can be used to police dangerous behaviours.

The SSA creates the offence of “Soliciting on a roadway”, which carries with it a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail and $1000. Panhandlers who walk in live lanes of traffic can be a safety concern. This dangerous behaviour can be addressed by section 140(4) of the HTA which makes it an offence for a pedestrian to move into the path of a vehicle. The maximum penalty for this offence is $500, no jail time. Individual cities in Ontario also have by-laws that prohibit pedestrians from using roadways unsafely. By using these laws the dangerous behaviour can be addressed without penalizing people who are not behaving dangerously.

         Sections of the Criminal Code can be used to address aggressive behaviour

The SSA also creates the offence of “Soliciting in an aggressive manner”. Again, aggressive behaviour can be dangerous to the public and intimidating for other pedestrians. But because of the way that the SSA is written, even if no one was actually intimidated or feeling harassed, the panhandler can still be convicted. Section 175(1) of the Criminal Code makes it an offence to impede or molest other persons in a public place. This law requires that the person charged actually offend a person. Using this law would, again, address dangerous behaviour and leave peaceful panhandlers alone.

In short, the SSA creates overly broad offences that capture behaviour that is not dangerous or disruptive to others. If the SSA were repealed police could use the more narrowly focussed pieces of legislation that already exist to address problematic behaviour.

 

2. There are already proven strategies that reduce homelessness

Through it’s overly broad language and its disproportionately steep penalties, the SSA actually increases homelessness. SSA convictions count against a person’s driving record making it impossible for people with outstanding SSA fines to obtain a job that requires driving, or a job that is away from public transit.

Additionally, if a person is housed and receiving housing assistance from the government, like disability support or Ontario Works, and they are jailed for a period longer than 30 days, that person will lose their housing funding and can be evicted.

There are proven methods of combating homelessness. Programs that focus on preventing homelessness and programs that address underlying causes have been shown to reduce homelessness. Supportive housing for people with mental health issues and addiction issues is a proven way of effectively combating homelessness. By focusing on these programs communities can address panhandling effectively without using the SSA.

For more information on proven strategies to fight homelessness read the 2014 report on homelessness in Canada here: http://www.homelesshub.ca/SOHC2014

Conclusion

The SSA is unnecessary and overly broad as a law enforcement tool. Repealing the SSA will not prevent communities from using more appropriate and focused laws to combat dangerous or intimidating behaviour.

SSA convictions limit employment opportunities and can cause the loss of housing. Both of which increase homelessness. Repealing the act will remove the negative side effects of SSA convictions and will help to abbreviate or prevent homelessness.

 

Coalition to Repeal the Safe Streets Act

We have posted several times regarding the Safe Streets Act, Ontario’s anti-panhandling legislation. We are excited to announce that the web page for the coalition to repeal the Safe Streets Act is up and running. You can view it here:

http://www.homelesshub.ca/RepealSSA

The site has additional information on the SSA including facts from recent studies on the effects of the Act.

How to Help the Homeless This Christmas

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The Safe Streets Act is Ontario’s Anti-Panhandling legislation. It penalizes individuals who panhandle by fining or imprisoning them. Research into the effects of this act have shown that the Act does not decrease panhandling and instead makes it harder for people to get off the street, gain employment, or get housing. You can look at the research here: www.homelesshub.ca

This Christmas you can help the homeless and save Ontario money by encouraging your MPP to repeal the Ontario Safe Streets Act.

You can find your MPP’s email address here: http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/members/members_current.do…

Here is a sample letter that you could send:

Dear MPP,

I am writing to urge you to repeal the Safe Streets Act, 1999.

The law is a waste of police time and budgets, as the tickets issued cannot be paid by the indigent who are ticketed. Thousands of hours are spent each year by police issuing these tickets, yet less than 1% get paid.

The people getting ticketed are typically mentally ill, addicted, impoverished, and homeless: i.e., incapable of paying expensive fines. Often they accumulate thousands of dollars of outstanding fines, so some actually go to jail, simply because they are unwell.

For those capable of getting better, the spectre of these outstanding fines is a major barrier to re-entering the workplace, and otherwise working their way out of poverty. The Safe Streets Act, 1999, in short, has ended up criminalizing poverty and pain.

All of the foregoing is well established by social science research, thanks to the exhaustive work at the Homeless Hub Research and Information Centre. I would encourage you to review that research at www.homelesshub.ca

Please do all you can to repeal the Safe Streets Act, 1999, by (a) introducing a private member’s bill; (b) supporting such a bill; (c) urging the Government to repeal the bill via caucus meeting, Question Period, Statements and Petitions; and (d) speaking directly to the Premier and Attorney-General in the legislature.

Yours truly,
Your Name
Your Address (including postal code)
Your Phone Number

Why We Should Repeal The Ontario Safe Streets Act – in 30 seconds or less

The Safe Streets Act is Ontario’s Anti-Panhandling Legislation, but it’s not doing it’s job.

1. Convictions for panhandling count against your driving record so the Act makes it harder for homeless people to find jobs, keeping them on the street longer.

2. The fines imposed for panhandling are almost never collected, but taxpayers are still paying for the courtroom, the Justice of the peace, the testifying police officer and the prosecutor to have the fines imposed.

3. When jail is imposed for panhandling people can lose the housing they do have and be forced back onto the street, actually increasing homelessness.

4. After 15 years the Act has failed to decrease panhandling or squeegeeing. More tickets are being given out every year.

This is a bad piece of legislation and it should be repealed.

But don’t take my word for it. The effects of the Act have been extensively studied. You can read more at http://www.homelesshub.ca

 

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