Saanich’s decision to crack down on abandoned garbage in public parks is a necessary but insufficient response to a larger problem.
While staff are still working on the final wording, Saanich asked staff to revise its parks management and control bylaw to authorize the “seizure, removal and disposition of chattels” — personal possessions — “from Saanich parks” like Cuthbert Holmes Park.
Thanks to its proximity to various services, that park has become a favourite location among campers, who lack fix addresses. But their presence has also produced growing piles of abandoned garbage, and the proposed bylaw revisions promise to close a regulatory loop-hole.
Saanich’s decision to deal with this issue appears — at first glance — appropriate. The municipality has responsibility to protect public assets against denigration and diminishment, and individuals, who leave behind personal possessions in public places regardless of their own personal circumstances, harm the common good, and should suffer appropriate penalties for their personal behaviour.
Homeless or not, individuals have a duty of care for not only themselves, but also for others and the environment, and failure to fulfill this basic obligation of citizenship should not be consequence-free. But Saanich must supplement these regulatory steps with other measures lest it wished to appear punitive towards people, who lack a lobby.
Yes, Saanich is not in the business of building housing for individuals, whom larger circumstances and personal choices have forced to camp in public spaces. But the municipality should do everything within its powers to assist these individuals, both in the immediate short-term and beyond.
If the presence of these individuals force Saanich police officer to become emergency social workers, the municipality should support them accordingly in their efforts. It should also continue and concentrate on-going efforts to increase the local supply of affordable housing. While these efforts will not immediately help individuals who are homeless now, they will prevent others from joining those who are already on the streets.