Professor Joe Hermer in The Conversation: “Homeless encampment violence in Toronto betrays any real hope for police reform”

Joe HermerProfessor Joe Hermer recently published an article titled “Homeless encampment violence in Toronto betrays any real hope for police reform” on The Conversation. The piece argues that when police officers forcibly and violently demolished homeless encampments in parks across Toronto they broke a trust with the public that they had committed to repairing just a few months earlier. Their betrayal of public trust now calls into question their capability of caring for marginalized and vulnerable people.

Professor Joe Hermer is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Sociology Department at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. He is currently working on a project called “COVID-19 Policing and Homelessness Initiative.” His research focuses on homelessness, crime victimization, and the criminal justice system.

We’ve included an excerpt of the article below. You can read the full article here.

…The widespread criticism of these evictions focus on the human rights breaches that have occurred. But what is equally troubling is that promises made by the police to be more accountable to marginalized communities have been exposed as a fraud.

More than a year after the death of George Floyd in the United States and historic protests for police reform, it’s clear that the Toronto Police are insincere about changing how they treat historically over-policed and criminalized communities.

Just three months ago, both the Toronto police chief and mayor accepted the recommendations of Missing and Missed: Report of The Independent Civilian Review into Missing Person Investigations. The report came after an inquiry that was established in response to criticism that the police did not take missing persons reports seriously about six of the eight gay and bisexual people who were murdered by serial killer Bruce McArthur between 2010 and 2017.

In her meticulous analysis, Justice Gloria J. Epstein, an independent reviewer of the report, found that while some dedicated officers did excellent work, the overall investigation had “serious flaws” and was marred by “systematic discrimination.” The report made clear that, while those murdered were part of the LGBTQ2S+ community, “these victims were marginalized and vulnerable in a variety of ways.”

A major theme of the 151 inquiry recommendations is the absolute necessity of repairing the badly damaged trust between the Toronto Police and marginalized communities, which include racialized and Indigenous people, those experiencing homelessness and people with mental health issues.

In other words, repairing trust with the very people who are most likely to have been forced to take shelter in homeless encampments in Toronto parks in order to survive the pandemic. Those who take refuge in encampments tend to be the most vulnerable and victimized of people experiencing homelessness, and are more likely to have complex needs that are poorly served by the shelter system.

Professor Joe Hermer was recently featured in an episode about homeless encampments in Trinity Bellwoods by The Agenda, TVO

Joe HermerProfessor Joe Hermer was recently featured in an episode titled “Clearing Homeless Encampments: Tensions Overflow in Trinity Bellwoods” by The Agenda, TVO. Professor Hermer, outreach worker Lorraine Lam, and mayor Michael Thompson weighed in with their thoughts regarding the recent incident at Trinity Bellwoods. In June, the police and security dismantled the homeless encampment at Trinity Bellwoods Park, leading to a loud outcry by the public. Professor Hermer described the clearing of this encampment as “unjustified” and a “bizarre police operation.”  According to Hermer, clearing homeless encampments “pushes people into more dangerous and risky situations”.  Professor Hermer also discussed the central problems of shelters and the types of people welcomed into parks by the city.

Professor Joe Hermer is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Sociology Department at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. He is currently working on a project called “COVID-19 Policing and Homelessness Initiative.” His research focuses on homelessness, crime victimization, and the criminal justice system.

You can watch the episode here.

Professor Joe Hermer was recently featured in an article titled “Policing and evicting people living in encampments will not solve homelessness in Canada”

Joe HermerProfessor Joe Hermer was recently featured in an article titled “Policing and evicting people living in encampments will not solve homelessness in Canada” in the National Post. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a rise in homelessness and policing of encampments in Canada. Homeless people who live in these encampments face the risk of being ticketed or evicted by police officers. Professor Hermer studies the survival strategies and policing of vulnerable people. He finds that similar to the historical vagrancy laws, Canada’s current municipal bylaws “work together to criminalize being homeless”. He says that it is impossible for a homeless person to “exist in public space without breaking one of these laws”, such as the anti-loitering and anti-camping laws. As a result, these bylaws aggravate the already dire situation of homeless people.

Professor Joe Hermer is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. He is currently working on a project called “COVID-19 Policing and Homelessness Initiative.” His research focuses on homelessness, crime victimization, and the criminal justice system.

We’ve included an excerpt of the article below. You can read the full article here.

“A homeless person simply could not exist in public space without breaking one of these laws,” says Hermer. “Individual offences may seem harmless, but if you view how they are actively enforced, it actually ends up being like the old vagrancy laws.”

Historically, vagrancy laws made it a crime to be jobless or homeless. The laws were written in vague terms that allowed the state to regulate people based on their income level, sexual orientation and race. To this day, racialized communities are overrepresented among people experiencing homelessness in Canada due in part to compounding experiences of stigma and discrimination.

Preliminary findings from Hermer’s study show that 75 per cent of Canadians live in a jurisdiction with laws that he describes as “neo-vagrancy” laws. And these issues are not limited to large cities.”

Professor Joseph Hermer launches website for rapid response research on policing and homelessness amid COVID-19

Professor Joseph Hermer recently launched a website for a rapid response research initiative on policing and homelessness during the COVID-19. The initiative is funded by the Toronto COVID-19 Action Fund at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. In the following eight months, Professor Hermer and his research team will examine ways in which people experience homelessness through policing across different parts of Canada amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor Hermer is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities on the UT Scarborough (UTSC) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of criminal justice system, the victimization of crime, and homelessness.

We have posted a section of the website below. The initiative is available on the website here.

COVID-19 POLICING & HOMELESSNESS

A Rapid Response Research Initiative

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.

Check out the website here…

Professor Joe Hermer on the impact of COVID-19 on the Homeless in Ontario

Professor Joe Hermer has recently co-authored an article in The Conversation discussing the need to protect the homeless during the pandemic. The article warns that police enforcing Ontario’s Safe Streets Act that targets homeless people will put them in danger, not only with the law, but also risk spreading the pandemic. Professor Hermer is an Associate Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at UT Scarborough. His research focuses on homelessness and policing.

We have posted an excerpt of the article. The full article is available here.

Ontario’s Safe Streets Act will cost lives amid the coronavirus pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, officials in many Ontario cities have moved to protect the homeless population. At the same time, police are still enforcing the province’s punitive Safe Streets Act against people surviving on the street. This enforcement must stop if we are to avert a public health catastrophe.

Homeless people are at profound and immediate risk. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found that when homeless people are infected with the virus, they are twice as likely to be hospitalized, two to four times as likely to require critical care, and two to three times as likely to die than the general population.

The report warns that it will take US$11.5 billion to manage the spread of COVID-19 among the homeless population in the United States alone.

The spread of the virus to homeless communities in Ontario could be disastrous to the homeless and the housed alike, given the strain that medical facilities are under. Underfunded and overwhelmed, many of the emergency shelters opened across Canada still lack basic counter-measures such as social distancing, self-isolation and proper hygiene protocols….

Read the full article.

Sociology Research Contributes to Lessening the Impact of COVID-19

Scott ScheimanMany of the Faculty in the Sociology Department have recently adjusted their research to address issues arising as a result of COVID-19 as well as the social distancing and economic shutdown that have been put in place to contain the pandemic. Four sociology faculty members have recently had their projects funded by the Toronto COVID-19 Action Fund, a fund established by the University of Toronto to support high impact research. The projects were identified as having strong “potential to have a positive impact on individuals, communities and public health systems within a time frame of a year or less.”

Professor Jessica Fields (left) is heading a research initiative investigating the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of sexual and gender minorities living in Toronto. With collaborators in Anthropology, Women and Gender Studies, Geography, Public Health and Medicine, Fields will gather quantitative and qualitative data as to health behaviours and mental health status of sexual and gender minorities during the pandemic. The project is titled Impact of COVID-19 on the Mental Health and Vulnerability of Sexual and Gender Minorities living in Toronto. Professor Fields is a Full Professor of Sociology and Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health and Society located at the UT Scarborough Campus. PhD student Ali Greey is also listed as a co-investigator on the grant.

Professor Joe Hermer (second from left) is leading a research project called Pandemic Policing of the Homeless in Canada: From Crime Control to Public Health Strategy. This project seeks to mitigate the risks posed to homeless people by policing during the pandemic. Hermer and his colleagues will use funding from the COVID-19 Action Fund to research, design and release interventions to help policing move from a crime control model to one that reflects a public health approach. Professor Hermer is an Associate Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the UT Scarborough campus.

Professor Andrew Miles (second from right) is conducting research to understand the role that pro-social behaviour can play to mitigate the negative public health impacts of social distancing. Entitled, Using Prosocial Behaviour to Safeguard mental Health and Foster Emotional Well-Being, this project will use an online experiment and daily tracking of 1400 Canadians to test how repetition and variation of prosocial acts generate positive outcomes, and how this varies by the level of social and/or economic hardship that individuals are facing during the pandemic. Professor Miles is an Assistant Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the UT Mississauga campus. Laura Upenieks, a recent alumna of our PhD program, is a member of Professor Miles’ team.

Professor Scott Schieman (right) is leading a team examining the impact of COVID-19 on the work lives of Canadians. His team also includes Professors Melissa Milkie, Sharla Alegria and Irene Boeckman of the Sociology Department and Sarah Reid, a recent alumna of our PhD program. This team seeks to identify trajectories of change in employment, work, and economic conditions over the course of the pandemic with a focus on job insecurity and disruption, financial strain, and restructuring of the work-home interface. They will also describe how these disruptions and transitions correspond to psychosocial functioning especially the sense of powerlessness, mistrust, social isolation, and loneliness and then trace the consequences for sleep problems and different forms of emotional distress. The project is entitled COVID-19 Impacts on the Quality of Work and Economic Life in Canada. Professor Schieman is a Full Professor of Sociology, Canada Research Chair in the Social Contexts of Health, and Chair of the Department at the UT St. George campus.

 

Professor Joe Hermer writes on Homelessness in the UK for the Crisis Blog.

Professor Joe Hermer recently published an article entitled, “Thomas Parker and the Tragedy of Vagrancy Law” for the Crisis Blog, an online publication produced by a national charity in the UK that works to reduce homelessness in England, Scotland and Wales. Professor Hermer’s article outlines the history of Britain’s Vagrancy Act of 1935 and its implications for today. Professor Hermer is an Associate Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto, Scarborough campus.

We have posted an excerpt of the article below. The first article is available on the Crisis Blog.

Thomas Parker and the Tragedy of Vagrancy Law

Joe Hermer, Sociology Professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough

04.02.2020

On the night of May 31, 1933, Mr. Thomas Parker took shelter to sleep under a steam truck near the village of Coleshill, outside Birmingham. Thirty-four years old, Parker was destitute and homeless, having just left the Bagthorpe workhouse in Nottingham days before. He was promptly arrested for sleeping out and for ‘not having any visible means of subsistence’ under the Vagrancy Act 1824, which makes rough sleeping and begging illegal in England and Wales. The next night he was a convict serving a 14-day sentence with hard labour at Winson Green prison.

The next morning, June 2, he was found to be ‘insolent and disobedient’ in the drill yard and was brought before the prison’s acting governor in the adjudication room at about 11.20 am. His immediate punishment was three days in the special ‘silence’ punishment cell, with a diet of only bread and water. What happened in the next 20 minutes would become a source of national controversy and would change how the rough-sleeping offence would be enforced into the 21st century.

From the office where his punishment was summarily given to the silence cell itself was a distance of 64 yards – down a steep flight of stairs, along a gangway and through a double door – to a cell no bigger than a parking space. As two guards pulled him into the cell at 11.25 am he was losing consciousness from a brain haemorrhage, caused by a vicious blow to the right side of his head. Fifteen minutes later he would be found dead, his six-foot body curled up and his head resting on the cement curb of the prisoner’s sleeping platform…

Read the rest of the article.