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Opinion: The solution to homeless encampments is making them unnecessary, not illegal

THE CONVERSATION

By Drs. Stephen Hwang and Jesse Jenkinson

The number of people visibly living in encampments has increased throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led to cities — including Toronto, Victoria and Vancouver — to work with encampment residents to move them into shelters, hotel spaces and more rarely, stable housing.

When those offers are declined, the next step can be the removal of residents’ belongings, and sometimes — such as recent events in Toronto and Halifax — violent evictions by police.

As researchers who work to improve the health and well-being of people who experience of homelessness, we are deeply concerned about the long-term consequences of this approach. Not only is it morally questionable to punish the most vulnerable, it isn’t an effective strategy for addressing homelessness. Criminalizing poverty doesn’t work.

The first step in addressing this problem is understanding the answer to this basic question: Why are some people in encampments insisting on staying where they are?

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