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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Gorman

Times-Colonist (Canada) Op-Ed

Comment: Beware of the unintended consequences of towing.

The decision of North Cowichan council to raise car-towing costs will disproportionally impact those who are experiencing homelessness.

William W. Gorman Sep 16, 2023 12:22 PM

A commentary by the founder of the Fair Towing Alliance in the United States. He works in the field of homelessness.

The first action I took as a young police officer was to tow a car of someone who was using it as a shelter. I clearly remember the person’s emotional plea as the towing would lead to his being on the street. However, our standard operating procedure was to tow cars under those particular circumstances.

It was not until time passed that I saw the flaws in the policy.

The recent decision (“North Cowichan’s tougher towing rules could hurt homeless, says housing advocate,” Sept. 9) to raise costs related to the towing of cars in North Cowichan will disproportionately affect those who are experiencing homelessness. It will also put housed families at risk.

In February of 2023, Statistics Canada made it known that 26 per cent of households said they do not have the ability to cover an unexpected expense of $500. Further, 44 per cent of households said they were concerned regarding their ability to afford housing and rent.

People will struggle to pay for the towing and the particulars that lead to the towing. These costs will not only affect the unhoused — it will also affect the housed who work hard and live paycheque-to-paycheque.

As we all know, cars break down in the most inconvenient spots and the most inopportune times.

Even a person who is working might need time to save

up for a tow and during that time they might accrue storage fees.

Having a car towed often means its owner cannot afford to recover that car. A person who has their car towed and is unable to get it back is now a person who sleeps on the ground, has no way to stay warm in the winter months, or loses their job when they cannot get to work.

In light of their inability to pay for that tow, it is also unlikely they could save to buy another.

The towing of vehicles by outside towing firms will not likely solve the problem. In 2020 it was reported by the Times Colonist that tow companies struggle to remain profitable when towing abandoned vehicles.

Towing alone is not the solution, as it could unintentionally pass a burden from the local government to tow operators.

The challenges of illegal parking in the community are not to be dis

counted. Nonetheless, there may be solutions. For example, in Los Angeles, space is designated where vehicles can park and portable facilities are provided to avoid the spreading of waste. This is an attractive alternative, enabling people to remain in more populated areas.

Homelessness is an unfortunate situation for everyone and it affects people beyond those who are actually experiencing homelessness such as neighbours, service providers, elected officials and law enforcement.

Everyone wants to address the matter, and identifying the solutions is not always easy.

It is incumbent upon the council to continue their dedicated work, pursue alternatives, and measure both the cost of towing cars and the unintended consequences.

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