Print this Post

Barrie By-Laws intended to deal with homelessness and addiction

June 2023

Barrie City Council is looking to enact by-laws that are intended to deal with drug addiction, mental health problems, shelter, counseling, limiting camping in city parks feeding the hungry in public places, and a ban on panhandling.

Homeless advocates and community organization that assist the homeless and those suffering from mental health issues and addiction, are organizing protests intended to forced councillors to drop plans for these by-laws.

As a recovering alcoholic and PTSD survivor, I have an understanding of addiction and mental health struggles. As a retired police officer, I have personally seen the societal effects of homelessness, addiction and mental health struggles.

Issues like homelessness, which are often exacerbated by mental health issues and drug and alcohol addiction, are complex issues, and there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution.

Of course, it’s the compassionate thing to give things like food, clothing, sleeping bags, tents and cash, directly to those suffering from homelessness. Many will argue that it’s compassionate to give those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction access to “safe” places to acquire and consume their drug of choice. However, are we really being compassionate, or are we just allowing them to continue killing themselves in slow-motion?

If you are homeless, what will it take to get you housed? A job? Job training? An affordable home?

If you are addicted, what will it take to get you clean? Are you willing to accept help and seek recovery?

If you are suffering from a mental illness, can your illness be helped or controlled by medication and are you willing to take your medication as directed by a medical professional? Are you willing to accept counseling to help your deal with your mental health issues?

Are we as a society ready to admit that there are times when the compassionate thing may involve involuntarily admitting someone who is a danger to themselves or others to a mental health facility for treatment, keeping them there for the rest of their lives if that’s what’s needed, instead of waiting for them to fatally harm themselves or others.

If the person is unwilling or unable to accept help and/or do what they need to do to overcome their issues, there is a good chance that we will all be stuck in the lather, rinse, repeat cycle. Yes, homelessness, addiction and untreated mental health issues are serious problems that must be dealt with compassionately, but enabling those issues to continue isn’t compassion.

A lack of affordable housing

What is affordable housing? For some, affordable housing means no-cost housing, as in the person will simply be given a home. In a free-market economy, like we have in North America, a home or apartment is worth what the buyer/renter is willing to pay, which is usually around the market value.

The reality of “affordable” housing is that it is rental housing that must be subsidized by the government to make up the difference between what the person is able to pay and the actual market value. Sometimes, direct payments can be made to the renter, but usually this involves the construction of densely-packed government owned and managed housing. Sadly, cities like Toronto have proven to be very poor managers of their inventory of “social housing,” through the city-owned Toronto Housing Corporation (THC). The THC have literally become slum landlords, with much of their inventory consisting of poorly-maintained apartment blocks that are millions of dollars behind in essential repairs, leaving far too many units uninhabitable, and neighbourhoods that are riddled with drugs and crime.

Further, Toronto has been incredibly slow in building new “social housing,” further exacerbating the homelessness issue.

Regardless, getting someone into a home, any home, will be a in vain if the person isn’t capable of maintaining that home. I don’t just mean financially maintaining a home, which is why some have ended up living on the streets, but are they capable of caring for themselves and following any rules that may come with occupying that residence. Will there be any addiction and mental health supports needed to prevent relapsing into homelessness again?

As a recovering alcoholic, I know that when it comes to addiction, you need to reach a bottom before you can get better. That bottom is different for everyone, and doesn’t have to be the worst of outcomes, but no one is going to clean-up until they are ready to clean-up. Sometimes you reach that point on your own, other times you have to be completely out of options.

Those options can sometimes include having someone who will always give you money to get your “fix,” or someone who will always let you sleep on their couch, or someone who will turn a blind-eye to you setting up a tent in a park, in the middle of winter, so you can continue on the bleak road on which you are traveling.

Admittedly this isn’t the only solution, but sometimes cutting the person off completely can be the best thing you can ever do for them.

When I was a police officer, I dealt with families that had a dug-addicted member who they would support by giving them a place to stay and money to buy their drugs. If the family member didn’t give the drug addict money, they would frequently steal it from that family member, or from somewhere else. Often, that person would become violent, or at least threaten violence. Eventually, the family would reach their limit and kick the drug-addicted member out of the house, sometimes with the assistance of police. After a brief period, the addict would beg to be allowed to come back, usually with the promise to be good. Then the cycle would repeat itself, over and over again.

On two occasions, thoroughly exasperated at having to repeatedly attend the same house to kick the same drug-addict out for misbehaviour (lather, rinse, repeat), I very bluntly told the “supportive” family member that they were “part of the fucking problem” and to “stop being part of the fucking problem.”

In recovery, I learnt that one of the best things that you can say to an addict is that you will no longer help them in any way. You will no longer give them money, bail them out when they are in trouble, give them a ride somewhere or a place to stay, and that you will completely cut them out of your life. You will only accept one phone call from them and give them one ride, that specifically being the one where they ask for help and you give them a ride to a treatment centre.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but we have to admit that what we have been doing all these years obviously isn’t working.

Sources: City’s homelessness plan called ‘undemocratic’ and ‘mean’ – Barrie News (barrietoday.com), SSC-SPC – Notification (bhhjn.ca).

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/barrie-by-laws-intended-to-deal-with-homelessness-and-addiction/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>