We forget that you can’t police poverty away

Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we need coddling and handholding — we need to be told again and again what we already know before it sinks in

Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we need coddling and handholding — we need to be told again and again what we already know before it sinks in. Embracing this need, Out of Sight: Policing Poverty in Victoria has set about the arduous task of placing academic language around the reality of life in the street community, leading us gently through those parts of our city we try so hard to ignore.

The report — created by the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group (VIPIRG) — explores the relationship between Victoria’s street community and the Victoria Police Force from the often unexplored perspective of those people living in the alleys and doorways of the capital. Interviewed by their peers, street-involved people were asked to detail their interactions with police and the effect of those interactions on their day-to-day lives.

Sifting through the stories of more than 100 members of the street community outlines some of the more startling unwritten rules affecting our city’s “unwanted.”

According to VIPIRG; chronic health and drug problems, disabilities, unfair and discriminatory policing practices, and abuses of authority by police characterize the experiences of some of the most heavily policed members of our community.

This, says the report, stems from “legislation and bylaws that penalize the activities of street-involved people in public spaces,” turning the basic functions of life into a criminal action.

Despite its urgent tone, Out of Sight isn’t all doom and gloom. The report’s recommendations — centred around involving the street community in decision-making processes and focussing on harm reduction instead of enforcement — offer more than a little hope for both the beleaguered street community and the exasperated Victoria Police Force.

Sometimes we forget. We forget that you can’t police poverty away. We forget that the bylaws we so happily ignore mean that someone downtown is expected to be on their feet carrying all of their worldly possessions for at least 12 hours every day. We forget ourselves in the rush to get past that kid asking for change on the corner.

Thankfully, Out of Sight is here to remind us. M

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