ParkTales on demo re homeless housing


25 charged with trespassing in otherwise peaceful sit-in at

Metro Hall to press need for more shelter for city's homeless

By Frances Sedgwick
True North Perspective
Frances Sedgwick's keen eye and ear for the human condition reveals the heart and soul of Parkdale in southwest Toronto, one of the country's most turbulent urban areas where the best traditions of human kindness prevail against powerful forces that would grind them down. True North Perspective proudly presents a column by writer Frances Sedgwick. Her critical observation combined with a tender sense of humour will provide you with something to think about ... and something to talk about.

10 March 2013 — As reported in my  last column the homeless crisis in Toronto continues.

On March 7, OCAP, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, had a sit in at Metro Hall in Toronto to declare Metro Hall an emergency homeless shelter.

Lots of media showed up to cover the event.

The demonstration started outside Metro Hall then proceeded peacefully inside and took over the main floor.

People arrived with signs, food and sleeping bags prepared to stay the night.

There was one incident where one burly cop tried to grab a sleeping bag from one of the squatters. Mayhem broke out for a short while until some authority motioned for the cop to stop and allow the sleeping bags.

As they spread out on the floor there were lots of speeches and chants.

As OCAP put it:

"The City of Toronto refuses to admit that the homeless shelter system is in a lethal crisis of overcrowding.

"By the City's own admission, shelters are operating at 96% capacity. This means conditions of overcrowding and tension - people are being forced onto the streets and lives are being lost. Every effort has been made to convince both the administration and politicians to act and open an emergency facility, but they have refused.

"On February 20th, City Council refused even to debate the issue.

"In 1999, the City gave Hostel Services the right to open more space whenever the capacity in the shelters exceeded 90%. During that year, Metro Hall was opened for a time so that the pressure on the rest of the shelter system could be eased.

"Today the crisis is even worse — and the Rob Ford administration is not only denying it, but making it worse. There have been at least 8 homeless deaths since the beginning of 2013, and 34 deaths in 2012 alone."

At the same time in the media Mayor Rob Ford continued his line that there are spaces available. In response to Mayor Ford's comments that there is a 96 % capacity, facts were presented that there are gender related issues and also territory problems.

The challenge was made to Mayor Ford to spend one night in one of these shelters.

The speakers were good and gave first hand experiences of the dire straights the shelter situation is in Toronto.

The conditions in the shelters are so bad that you would prefer to stay on the streets.

Sara Chartel, a lawyer for the homeless, said people who have been charged with minor offenses such as public intoxication are being warehoused in jail, denied bail because they were unable to find a shelter bed that would serve as a "fixed address."

In a conversation with one young chap, he confirmed from his own experience the situation in the shelters. He described some conditions.

He said there were just plastic covered mats on the floor.

How sometimes people would come in and vomit near you. Not an atmosphere you would like to be in unless you were absolutely desperate.

The obvious solution to the problem is not only more shelter beds but more affordable housing.

Most of the demonstrators left during the day, however the remaining 25 were arrested, issued a trespassing charge about 10:30 p.m., one hour after the building's closing time, then released.

My Parkdale