Monday, August 16, 2004


During both his initial 2002 Ontario PC leadership campaign and his current one, candidate Jim Flaherty has stated that he will introduce a "scoop law" in the Legislature that would allow special constables to take homeless individuals off the streets and into group homes or, if absolutely necessary (i.e. they refuse to go), jail.

In today's Toronto Star, columnist Ian Urquart has written an excellent article that really gives some insight into why Mr. Flaherty has proposed such a measure. It makes reference to New York City, where there is already a scoop law in place as well as some of Mr. Flaherty's personal background about his hands-on research into this problem.

In 2002, I was working for the Flaherty campaign as an organizer. I can tell you that I was somewhat concerned with this policy and the political repercussions it might have if a PC Government led by Jim Flaherty would have tried to push this policy into law.

I have since totally changed my opinion. Here's why.

During the campaign, Flaherty's "homelessness policies" took a prime focus. In fact, when he originally announced his proposal, it was on the front page of every daily across Ontario. At that time, our opponents took great acception to being in the same party as Mr. Flaherty, saying they would NEVER bring in such a law (cue clenching of fists). There were some pundits that said that oneof the reasons Mr. Flaherty lost was becuase of his "silly" ideas.

As you might have noticed, I live in Toronto. Undoubtedly, we have a large homeless population here in Toronto than probably any city in Canada. After the campaign, I took a little more notice to the situation on the street, and you know what? I started to realize that Flaherty had something. If you've ever been downtown, you have surely come across a homeless individual. I do every single day. On my way to work, I encounter literally dozens of individuals who are in definite need of help. They are usual mentally unstable or drunk. They are lying on sewer grates, absolutely filthy and sometimes not even conscious.

Is it really compassionate to leave them there? Is it really compassionate to toss them a few quarters and nothing else? Is it compasisonate to give them a sandwich and not get them back on their medication? Not on your life.

And the situation is getting worse. In the last 6 months, I have seen a marked increase in homeless people camping out on street corners begging for money. I was also witness to the small army of homeless folk that show up spot on 4:30 every day at City Hall to grab a good spot to camp out for the night.

Something needs to be done. And more "outreach teams" isn't the way to do it. We need to get these people off the streets and give them proper care. And there needs to be empowering legislation to do it. But we also need the funds as well. I do not agree with the current staus quo, where a city like Toronto spends over $100 Million each year throwing money at shelters and outreach programs and they can't even tell you how many people stay in any given shelter each night. Instead, we need to focus our investments on treatment--not just finding them a place to stay for the night. We also need accountabilty measures to ensure that the money is being spent on indivduals in need, not on creating an industry.

I think Flaherty's policies on homelessness are worth implementing. Get these people off the streets. That's real compassion.

It is amazing to me that when someone is trying to do the compassionate thing for the homeless, they are labled socially conservative. If socially conservative means keeping people fed, clothed, sheltered and living somewhere other than on a sewer grate, then call me heartless.
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