‘What kind of human being writes a by-law like that?’: Ryan’s Hope pitches tents at city hall to protest homelessness by-laws

If the by-laws are approved, Christine Nayler says they will have to stop their street outreach

A fountain of water shoots into the air at the Circle of the Centre pool outside Barrie City Hall where several small green tents were pitched on Monday evening to protest against a pair of proposed by-laws that Christine Nayler says will severely impact her grassroots organization.

Nayler and her husband founded Ryan’s Hope in memory of their son who died of toxic drug poisoning in 2020.

“Ryan lived with mental illness, and he self-medicated with street drugs because the pharmaceutical medications didn’t work for him.”

Nayler is fearful if two by-laws are passed at Barrie city council on Wednesday evening that a key component of their program – street outreach – will have to be stopped.

Last month, by an 11-0 vote, council approved a wide-ranging motion to tackle the issue of chronic homelessness in the city.

If approved, the by-laws would outlaw the distribution of food, clothing, tents, tarps or any other item in city parks and on any city property that would be used as shelter, to assist with sleeping or protection from the elements to members of the public without authorization to do so.

Nayler says they would have to stop their five-day-a-week street outreach where they provide food and other supplies to those experiencing homelessness.

“We’re meeting people where they are at,” she says. “They are already living in survival mode, and now you are taking away the very few supports that they have.”

Anyone who violates the by-law could be fined a maximum of $5,000 upon conviction, and that rises to $100,000 for a corporation.

Nayler says Ryan’s Hope is a corporation, and she says they don’t have that kind of money to challenge the by-laws.

The organization also provides a morning meal program outside a downtown church. It attracts about 200 people a day, many of them unhoused, though Nayler adds they also feed those who need to save their money to pay rent.

Nayler says the by-laws are a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She hopes there is a human rights lawyer that might take the case.

Related: Wide-range plan adopted by city council to address chronic homelessness in Barrie

Not everything in the lengthy motion gets a thumbs-down. She is supportive of funding for a warming and cooling centre for at-risk individuals where meal programs can be provided that are currently being offered on public lands and in public parks.

The city has committed $825,000 over the next two years for some of those provisions.

Council is also seeking additional funding from the provincial government for a rapid access addiction medicine clinic (RAM), providing more beds and increasing hours of operation for a similar organization that provides long-term counselling and treatment.

“There needs to be greater opportunity for folks who are hurting and who are suffering from addictions and mental health issues to be able to get right into services and be able to be met where they are at,” Mayor Alex Nuttall said at the time.

Staff was also directed to consider methods that would ban giving money to panhandlers on city streets, intersections and highway ramps, opting to place signs discouraging the practice in favour of donating to service agencies instead.

“Anybody that could think this type of by-law is going to make a safer city when you are going to put people in a more desperate state,” says Nayler. “They are already living in survival mode, and now you are taking away the very few supports that they have.”

Nayler says it is unfathomable city council seems poised to pass a pair of by-laws that will make it illegal to provide various forms of shelter to the homeless without authorization.

“What kind of human being writes a by-law like that? It said you cannot provide anything that would shelter someone from the elements. Who can even write that in a by-law? What kind of council do we have? What kind of city do we want to be?”

Banner image: Christine Nayler of Ryan’s Hope and a supporter stand in front of tents pitched at Barrie City Hall on Monday evening.