The Homeless in Public Spaces

Robert Sibley comments on the worldwide problem of homeless people in public spaces, and reflects on how Canadians can and should manage them.
October 23, 2008, 2pm PDT | Tim Halbur
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"All communities have public spaces -- sidewalks, cycling paths, beaches, roadways and parks -- where people gather. However, if these spaces are to be gathering places they require patrons to behave in ways different from those that they may indulge in private. You behave respectfully towards others in the expectation that they will reciprocate.

Or, to put it differently, public areas constitute a shared space where prevailing standards of safety, order and decency take precedence for the sake of all. It is simply not intelligible to abandon formal social controls on behaviour -- laws against vagrancy, loitering and public drunkenness, for example -- for the sake of spurious 'rights' that are, in reality, an excuse for private indulgences. That way lies disorder.

The traditional notion that citizens are obliged to behave themselves for the sake of a greater social good was effectively abandoned in the 1960s and 1970s. In Canada, the Trudeau government rescinded vagrancy laws in 1972. Laws against vagrancy and public misbehaviour gradually surrendered to the if-it-feels-good-do-it mantra of the era."

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Published on Wednesday, October 22, 2008 in The Ottowa Citizen
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