All news

Homelessness effectively illegal in America, Supreme Court declares. Canada is on the same path.

June 28, 2024 - 12:57 pm / News

With the rise of municipal by-laws targeting people experiencing homelessness, Canada could be next.

In the wake of today’s City of Grants Pass v. Johnson decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, which upholds the City’s ban on sleeping outside—essentially rendering homelessness illegal—the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness is issuing a stark warning: Canada is not immune.

“As Canadian cities grapple with rising homelessness, driven by our extreme housing crisis, too many are being drawn to criminalize homelessness too. As the dissenting justices declare, ‘Sleep is a biological necessity, not a crime.’ Canadian municipalities should not see this as a green light to continue their own criminalization of homelessness,” states Tim Richter, CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.

Grants Pass, Oregon, passed a law that makes it illegal to camp outside or in a car. With no adequate shelters in the community, the move was described by city officials as designed to drive out people experiencing homelessness. However, it was challenged as cruel and unusual punishment through a class action lawsuit, and today, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law, 6-3, saying it does not violate the 8th Amendment.

“The list of where we are already seeing the criminalization of homelessness in Canada is growing: Currently the City of Timmins is pushing forward a similar by-law that establishes a ban on overnight loitering, explicitly designed to target people experiencing homelessness. Where are they supposed to go?” continues Richter.

“Last year, the City of Barrie was intent on passing a law to make it illegal to provide food, water, and supplies to people experiencing homelessness. In Toronto and Vancouver, we see police and park rangers violently dismantle encampments. In municipalities right across the country, regulations that target people experiencing homelessness are popping up, including attempts to ban panhandling and forced encampment evictions.”

But cities’ decisions have not been without notice by their constituents.

Richter explains, “Fortunately, people across Canada are standing up to decision-makers who are moving in this direction. In the case of the City of Barrie, thousands of people took action, and the by-law was interrupted. From coast to coast, people are challenging the criminalization of homelessness through public pressure and in Court – and we are winning.”

It doesn’t have to be this way either. There have been examples in Canada of peaceful resolutions to encampments, where people living in them are supported to transition into housing that meets their needs. In August 2023, in Fort McMurray, the Regional Municipality of Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and partnering community organizations peacefully transitioned 29 people from a downtown encampment into long-term accommodation. In 2020, BC Housing supported 300 people as they relocated from an encampment in Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver to housing.

However, Richter says all of this is a distraction from the real issue. “What we really need is a permanent solution to homelessness. These concerns—people sleeping outside, encampments—none of this would be a problem if there was low-barrier, affordable, housing available.”

“The solution to homelessness is housing.”

Sign up to become part of our movement to end homelessness today.

Media Contact:

Andrew Burns
Director of Marketing & Communications
Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness