The Criminalization of Homelessness in British Columbia: The BC Safe Streets Act

Date

2022-07-07

Authors

Lamb, Courtney

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Abstract

The BC Safe Streets Act (BCSSA) criminalizes certain types of panhandling activities, including aggressive solicitation and captive audience solicitation. Given that panhandling is primarily a trade of people experiencing homelessness and extreme poverty, the primary objective of this project was to determine whether the costs of the BCSSA outweigh its benefits. This question was answered through a mixed-methods approach, utilizing qualitative data from a jurisdictional scan and literature review and quantitative data gathered through Freedom of Information requests (FOIs) to police departments across BC, as well as ICBC. The primary positive outcomes stemming from the BCSSA and similar legislation were related to reductions in problematic panhandling activity over temporally and geographically limited contexts. The negative outcomes stemming from the BCSSA and similar legislation were poor physical, social, and economic outcomes for those criminalized under the regime, significant debt burden placed on economically vulnerable populations, exacerbation of stigmatization leading to deeper entrenchment in homelessness and poverty, community rejection of support- and service-oriented policies, and a lack of evidence of long-term effectiveness. Ultimately, the most important recommendation that emerged from this research was that the Attorney General and Minister responsible for Housing should immediately repeal the BCSSA and instead address panhandling through evidence-based policies that address its root causes - poverty and homelessness.

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Keywords

homelessness, homeless, legislation, safe streets act, criminalization, poverty

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