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Homelessness, Addiction and Mental Health

Public Spaces Bylaw goes before City Council tomorrow morning and looks like there's some organized effort to push back on the open drug use fines aspects of the bylaw.

I think what we'll hear from admin is that in surveys and feedback the overwhelming majority don't approve of open drug use and that is contributing to the real or perceived safety issues in certain public spaces, and that there's better ways to help our vulnerable folks with addiction issues.

I'm not a fan of this public spaces bylaw for various reasons, unfairly targets our most vulnerable, the consultation was limited and the recommendations are just odd. For example, a fine for riding a bike through the grass in a park? 🙄 The city actually plans to enforce these things?

 
You can better help vulnerable folks with safe supply in safe injection sites, supportive housing and wrap-around addiction services than allowing open drug use in parks, by playgrounds or in front of businesses that unfairly affect urban neighbourhoods. It's the same thinking as encampments.

It's a draft bylaw and I'm looking forward to a thoughtful discussion. I wasn't aware of the biking on grass thing, but I'm looking forward to them getting rid of the parks hours which made it illegal right now to jog in the river valley at night.
 
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I'm not a fan of this public spaces bylaw for various reasons, unfairly targets our most vulnerable, the consultation was limited and the recommendations are just odd. For example, a fine for riding a bike through the grass in a park? 🙄 The city actually plans to enforce these things?

I think what groups like paths for people are arguing for, which I can understand, but don’t think I ultimately agree with, is that there’s ambiguity in these bylaws that lead to targeting more “vulnerable groups/people”.

So the bike on grass one. Like idk if they’re going after your average person doing that. But they would likely use it as a tool in their toolbox to reduce homeless people ripping through parks with their trailers or stolen goods (common sighting in the west end…)

While I agree that the ambiguity can create biases and unfair treatment. I also think it’s needed to allow discretion where black&white rules can’t cover all the bases. Cause there IS a difference between someone simply riding up to Hawrelak park on their bike across the field to setup chairs for a picnic or spikeball vs a homeless person biking to all the garbage bins to throw trash onto the ground and grab bottles and then going up to groups to ask for money and all of that (from experience). That’s not the purpose of the park or a way to make it attractive to users.

I get why people feel that fining people for those offences doesn’t solve anything. But there is also a need for us to figure out how to create welcoming public spaces for all users. The “if they’re not bugging you” or “sorry you’re sooo uncomfortable seeing poverty” or all the others sayings people use to push back on fair frustrations about homelessness, drug use, etc…those statements are also why Vancouver, Seattle, etc are the way they are and why many other cities/nations elsewhere are increasingly seen as clean, safe, desirable.

You get what you tolerate. And not wanting public spaces to devolve into places of crime, poverty, and drug use isn’t synonymous with not having empathy, compassion, and a willingness to also address those social issues. But many young progressives do frame it as such.
 
I think what groups like paths for people are arguing for, which I can understand, but don’t think I ultimately agree with, is that there’s ambiguity in these bylaws that lead to targeting more “vulnerable groups/people”.

So the bike on grass one. Like idk if they’re going after your average person doing that. But they would likely use it as a tool in their toolbox to reduce homeless people ripping through parks with their trailers or stolen goods (common sighting in the west end…)

While I agree that the ambiguity can create biases and unfair treatment. I also think it’s needed to allow discretion where black&white rules can’t cover all the bases. Cause there IS a difference between someone simply riding up to Hawrelak park on their bike across the field to setup chairs for a picnic or spikeball vs a homeless person biking to all the garbage bins to throw trash onto the ground and grab bottles and then going up to groups to ask for money and all of that (from experience). That’s not the purpose of the park or a way to make it attractive to users.

I get why people feel that fining people for those offences doesn’t solve anything. But there is also a need for us to figure out how to create welcoming public spaces for all users. The “if they’re not bugging you” or “sorry you’re sooo uncomfortable seeing poverty” or all the others sayings people use to push back on fair frustrations about homelessness, drug use, etc…those statements are also why Vancouver, Seattle, etc are the way they are and why many other cities/nations elsewhere are increasingly seen as clean, safe, desirable.

You get what you tolerate. And not wanting public spaces to devolve into places of crime, poverty, and drug use isn’t synonymous with not having empathy, compassion, and a willingness to also address those social issues. But many young progressives do frame it as such.
The riding on grass also kills any chance of Cyclocross racing here anymore. Overall I looked at this bylaw and find it quite draconian.
 
You get what you tolerate. And not wanting public spaces to devolve into places of crime, poverty, and drug use isn’t synonymous with not having empathy, compassion, and a willingness to also address those social issues. But many young progressives do frame it as such.
I agree with you on this. I would say I'm a "young progressive" as you say, but I also find it frustrating when my peers simply don't understand that it isn't necessarily the most comfortable for a lot of people to be around a lot of the issues that come with outward and visible poverty. Like you say it isn't synonymous with a lack of empathy. However, I think the point that people are trying to make is that the implementation of laws like these end up criminalizing poverty and overall making it more dangerous and difficult to be in that situation (one which is already extremely difficult). Most homeless people, addicts and the like have no choice but to be out on the street (hence being homeless), and for a lot of people facing homelessness, begging, selling bottles, etc is the only way to make money to survive. Also, something which was brought up in an article about it is that the banning of "visible drug use" will lead to more people doing drugs in dark alleys and hidden places where they can't be seen, and thus should something go wrong, they will most likely just straight up die as no one will be there to help them, this is an important point to keep in mind. Now I (and I think most people, even in this "young progressive" group) would agree that it isn't and shouldn't be the regular citizens responsibility to keep people from ODing, but the fact of the matter is that without proper supports (shelters, safe injection sites, etc) the implementation of these laws is going to lead to a lot more deaths due to overdose.

When I was in Singapore, a place known for its strict and sometimes over the top laws, the streets were clean and safe feeling and it was generally a very pleasant experience just walking around the city, which can't be said for large parts of Edmonton. I spent 4-5 days there, walking through all sorts of different parts of the city and didn't see a single "visible" drug user, or homeless person. That's because Singapore will basically jail you for being poor in a lot of cases. I'd rather live in a place that's occasionally a little scuzzy but doesn't treat it's most vulnerable populations as a problem to be hidden away and punished. That being said though, I totally understand where people who don't want to see that type of outward, visible suffering are coming from it's uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous. It's dismissive and wrong of people to assume a lack of empathy if someone feels that way. I'd say it is only a very small percentage of the population that is comfortable or not put off by sights like open drug use, begging, etc. I would say that it's actually a mark OF empathy, as you see the problems and (presumably) feel a need to fix the issue, and feel bad for the person, but obviously in the moment, your first priority is (as it should be) your own safety. Our social safety mechanisms aren't at a place where we can ban "visible drug use" and not see a big uptick in opioid deaths. If we still had safe injection sites, it would be totally fine in my books to ban visible drug use.

Edit: Also I ride my bike across the grass literally all the time for various reasons: shortcutting around circuitous pathways, riding to a picnic table or bench to have a rest, or any other of the MANY reasons someone might opt to stray from the path while biking. This law in particular irks me. It's just gonna make it a pain to get around and enjoy the parks on a bike. All for... barely anything. I don't get the purpose of this at all. It's stupid.
 
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I agree with you on this. I would say I'm a "young progressive" as you say, but I also find it frustrating when my peers simply don't understand that it isn't necessarily the most comfortable for a lot of people to be around a lot of the issues that come with outward and visible poverty. Like you say it isn't synonymous with a lack of empathy. However, I think the point that people are trying to make is that the implementation of laws like these end up criminalizing poverty and overall making it more dangerous and difficult to be in that situation (one which is already extremely difficult). Most homeless people, addicts and the like have no choice but to be out on the street (hence being homeless), and for a lot of people facing homelessness, begging, selling bottles, etc is the only way to make money to survive. Also, something which was brought up in an article about it is that the banning of "visible drug use" will lead to more people doing drugs in dark alleys and hidden places where they can't be seen, and thus should something go wrong, they will most likely just straight up die as no one will be there to help them, this is an important point to keep in mind. Now I (and I think most people, even in this "young progressive" group) would agree that it isn't and shouldn't be the regular citizens responsibility to keep people from ODing, but the fact of the matter is that without proper supports (shelters, safe injection sites, etc) the implementation of these laws is going to lead to a lot more deaths due to overdose.

When I was in Singapore, a place known for its strict and sometimes over the top laws, the streets were clean and safe feeling and it was generally a very pleasant experience just walking around the city, which can't be said for large parts of Edmonton. I spent 4-5 days there, walking through all sorts of different parts of the city and didn't see a single "visible" drug user, or homeless person. That's because Singapore will basically jail you for being poor in a lot of cases. I'd rather live in a place that's occasionally a little scuzzy but doesn't treat it's most vulnerable populations as a problem to be hidden away and punished. That being said though, I totally understand where people who don't want to see that type of outward, visible suffering are coming from it's uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous. It's dismissive and wrong of people to assume a lack of empathy if someone feels that way. I'd say it is only a very small percentage of the population that is comfortable or not put off by sights like open drug use, begging, etc. I would say that it's actually a mark OF empathy, as you see the problems and (presumably) feel a need to fix the issue, and feel bad for the person, but obviously in the moment, your first priority is (as it should be) your own safety. Our social safety mechanisms aren't at a place where we can ban "visible drug use" and not see a big uptick in opioid deaths. If we still had safe injection sites, it would be totally fine in my books to ban visible drug use.

Edit: Also I ride my bike across the grass literally all the time for various reasons: shortcutting around circuitous pathways, riding to a picnic table or bench to have a rest, or any other of the MANY reasons someone might opt to stray from the path while biking. This law in particular irks me. It's just gonna make it a pain to get around and enjoy the parks on a bike. All for... barely anything. I don't get the purpose of this at all. It's stupid.
Yeah, I feel like it’s tricky. Cause I agree, ticketing people without jobs and addresses isn’t the solution haha.

There’s also good research though on how actually offering more services and supports and relaxing laws and all of that can prolong and grow the problems of homelessness and drug use. Again, that’s why Vancouver, Seattle, California, etc have spent literally hundreds of billions the last few decades with 0 improvement and only significant worsening of their problems.

So following their playbook I am very, very skeptical of.

I do think making the consequences of illegal activity harsher can be a part of the solution. Lots of evidence to support that globally. And while true healing from addictions, rehabilitation, etc is the goal, I’m also ok for us to acknowledge that in the complexities of pursuing that, limiting negative externalities is also a worthy goal. Let’s find long term solutions AND let’s stop allowing this stuff to overrun our public spaces, downtown, and transit in a way that drives further disinvestment, fear, and neglect.
 

Have Progressives Lost the Plot When it Comes to Homelessness, Health and Public Spaces?​

Quite the Straw Man. The problem people have with clearing the encampments is the lack of a short-term plan to fulfill the basic need of shelter. As it stands, proponents of the demolition see that the tents are gone and think that we solved homelessness.

The author kind of outed himself with his reference to "outrage culture". But if that didn't do it, the lack the what-happens-next while telling others that they're incapable of critical thinking shows exactly how disingenuous the author is being.
 
Fair comments, people need a place to go which is why the province opened the welcome centre. Would like to see how many people can go there expanded, not just from encampments being dismantled. Also I've noted before shelter space has been tripled in Edmonton from 600 in 2023 to almost 1700 spots in 2024.
 

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