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POLL: Ontarians Reject “Safe Streets Act”, finding it an unsuitable way of dealing with homelessness
The results of a recent province wide poll suggest that Ontarians broadly reject the use of the “Safe Streets Act” and policing as an effective way of dealing with homelessness. In fact, a strong majority of Ontarians (56%) reject the Safe Streets Act, while only one quarter (26%) support this law.
Instead, Ontarians argue for better access to affordable housing, employment, mental health and addictions supports and an investment in prevention so that people don’t become homeless in the first place.
The poll was conducted by Mainstreet Technologies on behalf of the Coalition for the Repeal of Ontario’s Safe Streets Act. On February 22, 2015, 2,797 Ontario residents were interviewed by Interactive Voice Response. This poll carries a margin of error of +/- 1.85%, 19 times out of 20.
The Ontario Safe Streets Act or SSA is a provincial law in Ontario (S.O. 1999, CH. 8). The SSA came into effect in 2000 in response to the growing number of visibly homeless individuals in cities across the province during the 1990s. The SSA is designed to address panhandling, squeegeeing and other forms of solicitation undertaken in an “aggressive manner … a manner that is likely to cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety and security”. Unfortunately, the language of the act is rather vague, giving law enforcement officials broad discretion in its application. Moreover, suggesting enforcement is justified in response to a person’s fears can play to prejudices rather than real concerns. The law, while not explicitly mentioning people who are homeless, is clearly intended to target people of that status, and is based on similar legislation from the United States that has the intention of criminalizing homelessness, or the activities that people who experience homelessness engage in as a means of survival.
The poll asked Ontarians a range of questions about how the government has responded to the problem of homelessness. Below is a breakdown of results:
THE GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE TO HOMELESSNESS
Q1. All things considered, do you think government has done an effective job at addressing homelessness?
Overall, while there is some support for the work that government is doing on homelessness, more Ontarians believe there is more work to be done. 39 percent of Ontarians believe that government is doing an effective job of addressing homelessness, while 51% disagree. Men (49%) are much more likely than women (30%) to feel that government is doing a good job.
Perspectives on what government should do to tackle homelessness
Preferred options for what government should do to address homelessness
When asked to evaluate different strategies that government might take to address homelessness, Ontarians strongly suggest that the best options include better access to affordable housing, employment opportunities for homeless people, better mental health and addictions supports and an investment in prevention so that people don’t become homeless in the first place. It is clear that the use of policing and ticketing is the least preferred option for addressing homelessness.
Q. Thinking about the best ways to tackle Homelessness please indicate whether you completely agree, somewhat agree, neither agree nor disagree, somewhat disagree or completely disagree with the following:
Q2. Providing Homeless People with AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND SUPPORTS
65% of respondents agree that providing affordable housing and supports should be a priority, and 19% disagree. Females (74%) are more likely to agree than males (55%).
Q3. CREATING OPPORTUNITIES FOR EMPLOYMENT for homeless people
77% of respondents agree that creating opportunities for employment for homeless people should be a priority, and 11% disagree. Females (77%) and males (76%) are evenly split on this issue.
Q4. Providing more SUPPORTS FOR MENTAL HEALTH AND ADDICTION
81% of respondents agree that providing more supports for mental health and addictions should be a priority, and 7% disagree. Females (89%) are more likely to agree than males (72%).
Q5. Focusing more on PREVENTING PEOPLE FROM BECOMING HOMELESS in the first place.
70% of respondents agree that a focus on preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place should be a priority, and 10% disagree. Females (83%) are more likely to agree than males (55%).
Q6. USING POLICING TO TICKET PEOPLE for panhandling and squeegeeing.
Only 37% of respondents agree that using policing ticket people for panhandling and squeegeeing should be a priority, 43% disagree. Females (37%) and males (37%) are evenly split on this issue.
Is the Safe Streets Act a good law?
Ontarians were asked their opinion on the Safe Streets Act, and whether they considered this to be a good law. A considerable majority (56%) reject this idea, while only one quarter (26%) support this law. There was not significant variation in opinion across regions of the province or based on age. Ontarians believe the Safe Streets Act is a bad law.
Q7. The Ontario Safe Streets Act was put in place fifteen years ago. To date, police have spent over a million dollars ticketing panhandlers, and every year give out thousands of tickets, 99% of which cannot be paid by the panhandlers. Do you agree or disagree that this is a good law?