Shelters lose smoking bylaw exemption

By Will Stos

Ottawa’s soup kitchens and drop-in centres will join the rest of the city’s restaurants and bars on April 1 in becoming smoke-free. And signs around one drop-in centre warn patrons, this is no April Fool’s Day prank.

Buildings which fall under provincial jurisdiction were exempted from the city’s smoking bylaw last August, but a new law passed by the Ontario government has established new rules for provincial properties, including services for the poor or homeless.

Rob Eady, a manager at the Shepherd’s of Good Hope, says the new law specifically regulates places which prepare and serve food.

He says the centre was given the option of building a glass wall to enclose its kitchen facilities and separate it from a designated smoking area. However, managers decided the cost was prohibitive, so the building will become entirely smoke-free .

The decision is not very popular with frequent users of the centre.

But few people say it will have much effect on the numbers of patrons who pass through the centre’s doors.

“I don’t think it will have a big impact,” says Peter Courville, a volunteer at the drop-in centre. “It’s not a big talking item.”

Courville says many patrons are not taking the new law seriously and says it will be interesting to see how effectively staff and volunteers can enforce it.

With warmer weather just around the corner, some staff members say they may not see problems until the fall when smoking outside could become a greater inconvenience.

Marlene Bedford, another volunteer at the centre, has also noticed that the number of people smoking seems to decrease during the summer months and becomes popular again during the winter.

“I’ll be very interested to see how it turns out. It’s all speculative right now,” she says. “I think it might be positive for some of the non-smokers and the non-smoking volunteers, but smoking is like a Florida vacation for these people, and now they’re taking it away.”

Raising the issue at a table inside the Shepherd’s of Good Hope provokes a mixture of laughter and swearing. Most patrons, both smokers and non-smokers, say very little will change come April 1.

“It’s a pain in the ass,” says one man named Joey, “but no one is going to follow it. I’m not going to obey it, that’s for damn sure.”

Even if the staff ask people to light up outside, Joey says few people will listen and staff will have a difficult time enforcing the rules.

“If it’s forced upon them, they’ll try their hardest, but there are more of us than them,” he says. “It’s all we have.”

Joey says he personally agrees with laws that ban smoking in areas where food is served, but many homeless people consider drop-in centres as their home and anyone can smoke in a private place.

The new smoking ban will not include private rooms at the centre or designated smoking rooms at the Hope Recovery centre for addiction, so the centre’s staff think the new rules at the drop-in centre could be more of a nuisance than a deterrent.

Bedford says patrons who live in the shelter may opt to return to their rooms to smoke.

But, even if people refuse to follow the new law, she says enforcement will be nearly impossible.

“It’s like handing out tickets to pan-handlers. They’re just not going to pay.”