We began this chapter on Sociology and Crimino-Legal Studies by sharing a video of a man bathing in a public fountain and receiving news media coverage for the impact this was having on the quality-of-life of the housed citizens who lived nearby. We began with this story as a way of highlighting how police are often called into situations that are better addressed by considering the bigger picture of whose quality-of-life is really at stake.


At the start of the chapter, we introduced you to the composite character Susan who has had negative experiences with police and the justice system that have impacted her housing stability. The scenario was presented as an entry point into thinking about the complexity of homelessness. We returned to her story again at the end to demonstrate how it can help us understand the foundational concepts of being trauma-informed, person-centred, socially inclusive, and situated within the social determinants of health as critical for understanding homelessness in Canada.


We then asked you to consider three questions along the way, with the guidance of leading homelessness researchers.


First we asked, ‚ÄúAre all people who experience homelessness street-involved?‚ÄĚ Here we considered how the sociology of homelessness has been shaped around urban ethnography of the street, tracing back to the Chicago School and Nels Anderson‚Äôs research on hobo culture. We noted that while this work is important, we also must recognize that not all people who experience homelessness are involved with the street. Most notably, people who live in rural and remote areas often do not have access to a critical mass of infrastructure that would constitute a street environment. Within urban settings, the street is often made up of social service agencies but also has a social element as well. People may move between the network of organizations and arrange their time around their hours of operation.


Next we asked, ‚ÄúWhat is the criminalization of homelessness?‚ÄĚ This led us to consider how people who experience homelessness ‚Äď and in particular visible homelessness ‚Äď are subject to sanctions for being in public spaces. This criminalization occurs in multiple ways, such as through additional police attention and profiling, ticketing under Safe Streets Act legislation, and incarceration for not paying fines. We further saw that when people get released from custody they are often subject to conditions that make finding housing and employment more difficult, without the support of appropriate discharge planning. The criminalization of homelessness has also led to enforcement of by-laws, such as prohibiting camping in parks, which resulted in encampments being torn down, as highly evident during the COVID-19 lockdowns. The criminalization of homelessness has many long-lasting harmful outcomes and does nothing to actually address the problem of homelessness.


Finally, we asked, ‚ÄúHow can communities implement better support programs?‚ÄĚ In this final section, we turned away from criminalization and considered how communities can use human rights-based approaches to support their citizens. We saw that it is critically important to include people with lived experience in decision-making and to implement their recommendations. While communities may have existing programs, we saw that they are encouraged to evaluate these programs and review their diversity for meeting the needs of special populations, including for youth, women, LGBTQ2S+ persons, Indigenous persons, families, and people who have pets. Additional community education may be needed to counter NIMBY attitudes and ensure safe and affordable housing, as well as ongoing supports, are available for all members of the community.


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Understanding Homelessness in Canada Copyright © 2022 by Kristy Buccieri, James Davy, Cyndi Gilmer, and Nicole Whitmore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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