In colonial government, public health departments have two mandates: to provide/oversee public health services, and to enforce social control.
The combination of the two is deadly for people living outside.
Years ago when we were working with people living at another tent city, access to drinking water was a major issue. Naively, we approached public health officials thinking that they would order the city to turn on the taps, as this was a health emergency for the people living onsite. Instead the health authority took actions over the course of many months to use lack of access to resources as a weapon, asking the courts to shut down the tent city on the grounds that there were health hazards.
It’s quite a setup to refuse access to something as basic as drinking water and then blame people outside for not being healthy.
For years people have been calling for public water-filling stations throughout downtown, for everyone: cyclists, pedestrians, and people living outside. Access to drinking water is a basic human need. Right now, with many businesses and organizations closed, people have even less access to water than usual. As the spring weather heats up, we see that once again people sheltering outside are being left dehydrated (in addition to not having consistent access to laundry or showers).
It’s not hard to supply people with safe drinking water, even in COVID times. This is a solveable problem. All that’s lacking is caring about people’s lives and well-being. But as Indigenous communities still under boil-water advisories know all too well, even with the United Nations declaring access to safe water a basic human right, a constitution that requires the ‘canadian’ government provide essential public services of “reasonable quality”, and treaties setting out basic obligations, when you’re colonial government, you don’t even have to follow your own rules.