stats
globeinteractive.com: Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /globeandmail.com
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space


Search

space
  This site         Tips

  
space
  The Web Google
space
   space



space

  Where to Find It


Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business

  Sports

  Technology

space
Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store


Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business

  National

  International

  Sports

  Arts & Entertainment

  Editorials

  Columnists

   Headline Index

 Other Sections
  Appointments

  Births & Deaths

  Books

  Classifieds

  Comment

  Education

  Environment

  Facts & Arguments

  Focus

  Health

  Obituaries

  Real Estate

  Review

  Science

  Style

  Technology

  Travel

  Wheels

 Leisure
  Cartoon

  Crosswords

  Food & Dining

  Golf

  Horoscopes

  Movies

  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...

space

Services
   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site

 Newspaper
  Advertise

  Corrections

  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us

  Reprints

  Subscriptions

 Web Site
  Advertise

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


GiveLife.ca

    

PRINT EDITION
'It's safer out here'
space
As temperatures dip, the city's homeless must often choose between freezing conditions and sometimes dangerous public shelters
space
By JESSE WINTER
  
  

Email this article Print this article
Monday, January 15, 2018 – Page A8

Shawn stamped his feet in the -23 C cold, slapping hands against his thighs to beat some warmth back into his fingers.

"I'll be back in an hour," he said, before heading off into the freezing night.

Behind him, from inside a yellow tent in an alcove near the downtown Toronto intersection of Queen Street and Spadina, his partner Barb offers a muffled acknowledgment. The couple are homeless and have been sleeping outdoors even through the depths of this winter's potentially lethal cold weather.

Together with two dogs and a friend who calls himself Chibi, they've lived in their tent setup for almost two months, preferring the street to the city's shelters and drop-in centres.

"It's safer out here," Barb said.

"There's no bugs. No one's going to beat you up or steal your shit."

As temperatures have plummeted this winter, Toronto's emergency housing system has been stretched to the max, sparking an emotional public debate about whether the city has underfunded services for its most vulnerable residents. Shelters are running around 95-percent full. During the recent twoweek cold snap, drop-in centres and emergency respite sites were overflowing.

After first voting against it in early December, Toronto Mayor John Tory this month asked the federal government to open the Moss Park Armoury as an emergency warming centre, which includes 100 cots and access to showers. It will stay open until the province finishes renovations to a building on George Street, which then takes over with space for 75 clients until April 15.

The discourse has focused mainly on the number of beds, but those who use the shelter system say the real problem is the quality of accommodations.

During the recent cold spell in Toronto, with record-low temperatures that could cause frostbite in just half an hour, The Globe spoke to numerous homeless people who said the conditions inside the existing drop-in centres and shelters are so deplorable or dangerous that they'd rather brave the elements. (Most of the people The Globe interviewed asked not to be identified because of the circumstances that led them to the streets.)

The city and shelter workers acknowledge the system is deeply flawed, but say they are doing the best they can with limited resources and increasing demand. That's an unacceptable answer for activists who have urged the city for years to overhaul the system that some users feel forces them to choose between warmth and safety.

"I can leave my stuff here when I go work and know it won't be stolen," Chibi said of his makeshift home.

By work, Chibi means anything from panhandling to collecting bottles and cans, or "flying a sign" - seeking change from cars stopped at red lights during rush hour.

Chibi's friend Matt Buckaway does the same work, rotating between various locations downtown, depending on traffic, weather and how many other people he's competing with. On a good day, he can make $30 to $50 an hour, he says. On a bad day he makes less than $5.

But it's not just the charity of strangers the group relies on.

When Barb and Shawn first set up their tent, outreach workers started dropping off occasional supplies, such as hygiene products and warm clothes. It wasn't long before the couple had more than they needed, so they started giving them away to anyone else who needed them.

"The outreach workers are angels," Shawn said. "The shelters they work for, though, not so much." Chibi joined Barb and Shawn in the fall, at first using just a sleeping bag on the sidewalk. He was drawn to the spot because there can be safety in numbers, he said. Soon, other street youth started showing up, asking if there were any supplies to share.

Barb, Shawn and Chibi were happy to help.

"We were actually getting referrals from other people," Chibi said. "We call it streets to streets.

We the poor, for the poor." He even found discarded cellphones while dumpster diving, got them fixed, and gave them to friends who needed them, he said.

Mr. Buckaway himself is 25 and has spent the past five of those years homeless. During past bouts of extreme cold, he says he's tried calling the phone line at 129 Peter St., the location of the city's central intake for people needing access to the shelter system. He said he usually gets referred to a warming centre or the Seaton House shelter.

"It's basically drug central," Mr. Buckaway said. "So I'm, like, 'No way.' I'd rather go find a stairwell or something."

Many of his friends feel the same way. On a recent afternoon, as the cold deepened, Mr. Buckaway met up with a man who calls himself Eyrish. He was panhandling outside the Yonge and Dundas subway station with his dog, Nez Paw.

"Those places are garbage," Eyrish agrees, sloshing around a can full of beer freezing faster than he was drinking it. Though he is precariously housed now, Eyrish says he spent the night of Jan. 4 at the All Saints Church drop-in centre on Dundas Street East.

"It's chaos in there, man," Eyrish said. "I froze last night, and my phone got stolen."

A visit to the All Saints dropin centre is illuminating. Around midday on Jan. 5, dozens of people were huddled under blankets on mats on the floor.

Although it was warmer than the -18 C it was outside, the old church was still chilly inside.

The smell of urine hung in the air.

"Oh, honey, your feet!" one woman said to another woman wandering listlessly towards the bathroom. "You have nothing on your feet!" The woman appeared not to hear her. Near the door, a young man was yelling incoherently.

The drop-in at All Saints Church is run by Margaret's Housing and Community Support Services. It took in upward of 100 people a night between the site's two spaces during the cold snap. Inside the church, there are three toilets and only one sink. The washroom has no door.

Margaret's executive director, Diane Walter, acknowledged the cold-weather crowding situation isn't ideal, but says staff do the best job they can.

"We have not had an incident of extreme violence where blood was shed or anything like that," she said. "We've had skirmishes."

During this month's cold snap, Ms. Walter said some of her organization's clients were holed up at the drop-in around the clock for 13 days straight. In such conditions, it's natural for nerves to get frayed, she said.

Police had to be called twice.

The drop-in at All Saints faced some of the worst overcrowding during the recent cold snap in part because of its location at the corner of busy Dundas and Sherbourne Streets, which Ms. Walter called the "epicentre" of the shelter crisis.

"It may not look like the Ritz, it may not smell like the Ritz or feel like the Ritz, but for some people it is the Ritz," she said. "I don't think it's optimal, obviously, but it serves a purpose and it saves lives."

While the drop-ins and warming centres can be rough, some say the conditions inside the city's permanent shelters are often as bad or worse.

"The shelters, they're very dangerous," said one shelter user who asked to remain anonymous and sleeps at the Salvation Army's Maxwell Meighen Centre shelter for men. "I got my nose broken, my eyes blackened. I was in the hospital three times. Once, I got stabbed."

During one incident two weeks ago, he said, another shelter client interrupted a card game. When things got heated, the other client started spitting in his face, he said. They got into a fight, and the police had to be called.

Salvation Army spokesperson John McAlistair said a "disagreement" between two clients fitting that description did occur at the Maxwell Meighen shelter recently. Without disclosing the frequency of incidents, he said staff at the shelter are trained in non-violent crisis intervention and only call the police when situations escalate.

City Councillor Kristyn WongTam said she can understand why, even in record-breaking cold, some people would still choose to sleep outdoors.

"We have to tackle this in a holistic manner by defusing the volatile situation in the shelters," and adding at least 1,000 new shelter spaces by the end of the year, Ms. Wong-Tam said.

"We probably need more than that by my count, but I think we should be able to ... at least get those 1,000 shelter beds open before the next winter hits."

Last week, the city made a small dent in that number. The Salvation Army's New Hope men's shelter opened in the eastern part of downtown Toronto, adding 60 new spaces to the city's 5,861 total.

Toronto housing and shelter spokesperson Patricia Anderson said nightly shelter demand has increased by 30 per cent over the past year. The city plans to open a total of 690 new spaces by the end of 2018. Three new shelters will be built next year, and three more added to the 2019 plan, Ms. Anderson said.

Back on the street, as Jan. 5 slowly became Jan. 6, Mr. Buckaway made one last stop to visit friends under the busy Gardiner Expressway. There, with his tent pressed up against a concrete pillar, was Jordan. He's been on the streets for 20 years, he said, and - like his friends - prefers his tent to a shelter or drop-in because he feels safer.

"Plus, I can't make eggs at a drop-in," Jordan said with a grin, pointing to a full carton and a single-burner propane camp stove.

Mr. Buckaway's night ends in the basement of an empty house he's squatting in. It's in a row of others downtown, all slated for eventual demolition to make way for a condo development. There is no heat, power or running water, but Mr. Buckaway doesn't mind.

Inside the basement, it feels warmer than the All Saints drop-in, and is definitely warmer than the -23 C outside.

"With a few candles and a good sleeping bag, it's not too bad," Mr. Buckaway said, before turning in for the night.

Associated Graphic

Jordan has been on the streets for 20 years and prefers his tent to a shelter or drop-in because he says he feels safer.

Among Toronto's homeless people - such as Chibi (below), Matt Buckaway (bottom), Barb (far left), Eyrish (left) and Jordan (above) - many say they would rather sleep on the street than go to a shelter or drop-in site because of safety, drug-use and theft concerns.

PHOTOS BY JESSE WINTER/ THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Correction

A Monday feature on Toronto's homeless included an incorrect spelling for the Salvation Army spokesman. He is John McAlister, not McAlistair as published.


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Lorne_Rubenstein Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail
 

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement
space

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.

Advertisement

7-Day Site Search
    

Breaking News



Today's Weather


Inside

Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes


Editorial
Where Manley is going with his first budget




space

Columnists



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.

 National


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
space
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
space
Margaret Wente arrow
Counterpoint
space
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game
space
 Business


Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
space
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
space
Mathew Ingram arrow
space
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
space
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
space
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
space
Andrew Willis arrow
Streetwise
space
 Sports


Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
space
Eric Duhatschek arrow
space
Allan Maki arrow
space
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
space
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
Golf
space
 The Arts


John Doyle arrow
Television
space
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
space
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
space
Johanna Schneller arrow
Moviegoer
space
 Comment


Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
space
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
space
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
space
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
space
Paul Knox arrow
Worldbeat
space
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
space
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
space
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
space
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
space
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
space
William Thorsell arrow
space





Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page