Homeless Or Not, Your Belongings Frame Who You Are. Losing Them Can Be Devastating

identification bracelet belonging to soldier, which is on display at a war memorial
Identification on display at a war memorial. If that person happened to be homeless today, could he be assured that his possessions would be protected?

Not all that long ago, it was against the law to be homeless in Canada. That changed in 1972, when vagrancy laws were repealed. So, imagine a currently homeless person in Vancouver, B.C. who arrives back at their tent or a sleeping spot, where a few belongings are stored, only to discover they have been ‘swept’ away.

What law has that homeless person broken that allows a city like Vancouver to arbitrarily make not only shelter (a tent) but personal belongings just vanish? Is it legal for authorities to make that happen? The answer is: perhaps.

Perhaps if there are by-laws concerning activities at a particular location. Such by-laws apply to everyone. Alas, these are by-laws that, without necessarily any intent towards people who are homeless, cause them to fall afoul of laws that authorities are using to clear encampments and seize belongings.

For a homeless person, losing an official document or essential clothing – even something that is simply cherished – can be earth-shaking.

Three professors at universities in Canada are the authors of a ‘deep dive’ about personal belongings and homelessness. They consider the importance of belongings to personhood.

Read more in THE GLOBE AND MAIL1: Belongings Are Essential To Personhood. Why Would We Deny This Dignity To Homeless People?

An article about this research has been published in the Annual Review of Law and Social Science, which requires a subscription. The following link will connect you with the abstract of the article and email contacts for the authors, should you wish to follow up.: Governing the Belongings of the Precariously Housed: A Critical Legal Geography


  1. Many Globe And Mail articles are paywalled. The following one appears to be available for one or more free reads.