Rich People Are Planning a 'Crusade' Against Homeless Shelters

Toronto scrambled to set up shelters, adjacent to an affluent neighbourhood, for homeless people during the pandemic. Residents say they're scared.
Anya Zoledziowski
Toronto, CA
August 14, 2020, 12:59pm
Toronto midtown
Toronto rushed to set up homeless shelters to house people during the pandemic.. Photo via Google

People in midtown Toronto are planning a six-hour “crusade” against homeless people sheltering in the area on Saturday.

According to a flyer posted in the neighbourhood and on social media, a Mt. Pleasant and Eglinton community group is “organizing a crusade to restore safety for residents of the area” to “take back the neighbourhood!” The ad has a “community safety alert” banner at the top written in all caps and blood red font.

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The flyer alleges that crime in the area went up after “tent people” were moved in from downtown.

“There has been a significant increase in crime in our area,” the flyer says. “There has also been an overdose death at the Broadway Shelter, a fire, and a City of Toronto worker was stabbed.”

Toronto repurposed two apartment buildings in the neighbourhood in April, as well as a nearby hotel, to create shelters for homeless people during the pandemic, the Canadian Press reported.

While the apartment buildings are slated to shut down by the end of the month, the city signed a two-year lease for use of the hotel, with an option to extend for a third year. It’s one of 17 hotel sites that has opened since mid-March to support the homeless, offering 109 units for up to 174 clients, the city told VICE News. The hotel sits in an affluent neighbourhood where the median household income is $93,566, according to census data.

Residents have listed an increase in break-ins, public urination and defecation, graffiti, and discarded needles, according to CBC News. Nick Avramis, a man whose home is adjacent to a local daycare that was recently robbed, told CBC, "The community has really been terrorized, to put it simply, with what's transpired here over the last month.”

The event’s organizers did not respond to requests for comment.

Toronto Police Service did not respond to VICE requests for comment, but Const. Caroline de Kloet confirmed to the Canadian Press that the area has seen a few break-ins as well as discarded needles. A resident staying at one of the homeless shelters is also facing new firearms charges, the Toronto Star reported.

It’s too soon to tell whether there is a correlation between break-ins and the homeless shelters, de Kloet said.

One woman currently sheltering in a repurposed apartment told CP she’s hurt by the community backlash. “The vast majority of us are good people, but apparently we are offensive that we even exist,” Jen Reece said. "Oh no, somebody has to see somebody being poor for a minute."

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Reece said she can't believe that a protest rally is planned.

Several residents and business owners have told reporters they were not consulted before the shelters went up. In a statement to VICE News, Alex Burke, a spokesperson with Toronto’s shelter, support, and housing administration division, said consultation normally takes place, but “due to this unprecedented pandemic emergency…we had to act quickly to open emergency sites across the city to provide additional physical distancing within the shelter system.”

The councillor representing the area, Josh Matlow, acknowledged the need to provide shelter for those in need, but said in a statement that the issues in the community are “unacceptable.”

"Concerns raised about the recent behavioural impacts on midtown residents' safety from the new shelters…are real and should not simply be dismissed as 'NIMBY' (Not In My Backyard)," he said. “In no context is it acceptable to leave needles on our streets and school yards, harass people, break into stores, steal, defecate in public or make people feel intimidated and unsafe.”

Mayor John Tory has said the shelters are a necessity, but acknowledged resident concerns, according to the Star.

Midtown Toronto residents are now facing backlash online for their approach to dealing with the homeless shelters.

“If we are to live in a city that drips with wealth but allows homelessness, the services that are needed must be provided where they are needed,” tweeted John Clarke, an Ontario Coalition Against Poverty Organizer.  “No voices of self-interest or bigotry can be allowed to veto these necessary measures.”

Another Twitter user who received a crusade flyer asked midtown Toronto to “show some compassion.” “The money (and) time it took to print (and) hand deliver these flyers could have been donated to an organization that helps homeless & marginalized people in our city,” she said.

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