Access to Justice as a Component of Citizenship: Reconsidering Policing Services for Canada’s Homeless

“The denial of access to justice can only represent [a] failure to be equal, can only represent a diminishment of how [the homeless] are perceived in terms of their human dignity. It can’t be perceived as anything other” - service provider. Due to their vulnerability on the streets, it has been frequently reported that the homeless experience high rates of harassment and criminal victimization. And yet, reports of such victimization are rarely made to the police. Failure to report crime has often been conceptualized as a problem for law enforcement, policy makers and social scientists (Skogan 1984). We conceptualize the failure to notify authorities as to the experience of criminal victimization by homeless men, women and youth as a problem directly linked to their status as ‘lesser citizens’, individuals and groups who are more often viewed as the criminal element to be protected from, than as citizens who need the protection of the state and its mechanisms of justice (Huey 2007; Hermer 2007). What we explore within the present study is a possible avenue for reconstituting marginalized crime victims as citizens equally worthy of access to justice. The research project from which this paper is drawn was designed to investigate the phenomenon of under-reporting of criminal victimization by the homeless and, in particular, to examine the willingness of affected stakeholders in two Canadian cities to consider an alternative model for facilitating victims’ access to justice through the use of policing services. The Homelessness Remote Reporting Project was developed in Edinburgh in 2002 as a joint venture of police and local service providers to provide policing services to homeless victims of crime. With this model, access to policing services, and thus access to justice through the state, is said to be facilitated through participating service providers, who take initial reports of victimization, relay these reports to the police on behalf of clients, and otherwise act as advocates for the homeless.

Publication Date: 
Paper 10
Journal Name: 
Sociology Publications