Social institutions across Canada are changing how they operate, adjusting to the new reality of the pandemic. How is the responsibility to safeguard the lives of vulnerable people in public spaces changing police-homeless encounters?
Police officers are not social workers.
Yet, police are frequently called upon to respond to individuals, many from racialized populations, who are in distress and dire circumstances. Law enforcement has long been a primary response to abject poverty and lack of affordable shelter. But criminalisation of people who are homeless is now, even more clearly, in conflict with ensuring their health and safety.
The COVID-19 Policing and Homelessness Initiative is a rapid response research project based at the University of Toronto Scarborough. Our goal is to promote and support a move away from the criminalisation of poverty, with solutions that serve the immediate and long-term needs of the homeless.