criminalization / harm reduction / poverty / social justice

The Criminalization of Poverty

by Bill O’Leary


There are three issues that are prevalent to my understanding of homelessness and the steps required to effectively address this national crisis; poverty, short sighted economics and criminalization. A harm reduction approach would incorporate these three issues in order to address the need to look past band aid economic “solutions” that fail to address the systemic causes but function daily on ideologies based on stereotypes and stigma. These ideologies fundamentally work towards the criminalization of a population of people that share one intrinsic connection; the impact, and fallout, of poverty.

Poverty is at the core of this crisis and effectively impacts the bio-psycho-social health of the individual to the degree they are dependent on organizations/institutions that impart the feeling of what it is to be in a carceral space which in turn becomes internalized and what we know to be who we are. Poverty impacts our children and youth in such a way that it becomes a generational “illness” with fewer and fewer “treatment” options to do anything more than arrest the symptoms.   Poverty is the root cause of homelessness but short sighted economics blinds the community from seeing this.

Funding put towards shelters, food banks and other front line homeless services brings the community ideas of “containment” of the homelessness crisis. The importance of these service are immeasurable when looking at meeting the daily needs of a person experiencing homelessness but there is a danger that containment may be seen as a fiscal “solution” as opposed to challenging the political powers into investing our money in eliminating a crisis as opposed to containing it to the degree to which we have incorporated it into our daily lives and it is now no more than the status quo of life in a city.

The points that have been mentioned bring me to challenging ourselves; what is it to feel the effects of criminalization? To be dependent on people that hold power in the decisions of when, and what, you will eat; what type of, and which area of the GTA, housing will be allocated to you; how may lines will you wait in each day to meet your basic needs? A person experiencing homelessness is more likely to experience incarceration but even if there is no prison walls which contain them there are the elements of criminalization in all aspects of their daily life.


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