[Hpn] TORONTO: Tent City digs in for long winter

Graeme Bacque gbacque@netzero.net
Mon, 05 Nov 2001 03:37:40 -0500

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Monday, November 5, 2001 The Toronto Star

Tent City digs in for long winter
Few of 70 homeless talk of leaving lakefront shanties
Catherine Dunphy

Now Tent City has its own main street, wooded subdivision, waterfront row 
and backwoods dwellers.

Now the waterfront shantytown is home to at least 70 people who live in 
wooden cottages and the surprisingly sturdy shacks, sheds and shelters 
they've crafted

And most aren't talking about leaving these windblown urban wild lands, 
even as winter closes in.

In fact, they say they're staying.

"I'm preparing for winter. A potbelly stove, that's all I need, " says 
Patrick LePage, who is finishing building a wooden hut that's replete with 
a sleeping loft and five windows. The hut is adjacent to the donated 
leaking construction trailer where he and girlfriend Julie Raksany now sleep.

"It's a fridge," she says, with a shudder, about the trailer. But she's 
thrilled by a roll of new carpeting that LePage will soon be installing in 
the cabin they are about to inhabit.

Many of the people at Tent City are busy winterizing now. Vietnam vet Tom 
Gold just bought $40 worth of stove piping from Canadian Tire for the 
corner woodstove he bought for $75 from Dan for his place.

Dan, who like many residents declined to give his last name, is now looking 
out for a 45-gallon tin drum as a replacement, the kind the three young men 
living next door to Gold - Wael Nehes, 21, VJ Choquette, 19, and Arind 
Karmakar, 21, have already landed.

They're going to be building their stove out of it, Choquette says. "We'll 
put a little hole in the bottom. It'll heat our place up - like Frank's place."

Frank's place overlooks the huge concrete edifice on Lake Shore Blvd. E. 
that used to be a grain silo. His house is the biggest. It has a peak and 
it has style.

There are many signs of pride of ownership here: A bicycle lock on one 
painted door, a "Be Back At" time clock on another, a homemade wooden 
picnic bench outside the waterfront cottage where Ishvan lives.

Ishvan, who stays apart from everyone else at Tent City, also has a 
vegetable garden, a window flower box and front lawn and shutters.

Hanging on the wall inside Randy Dundas' Durakit portable shelter is his 
collection of stuffed cartoon characters, including Sylvester and Yogi 
Bear. "I'm just a kid at heart," he says.

Tent City has become a barometer for the homeless condition

If Tent City has a centre, it's here. Its main street is the paved roadway 
that cuts across the contaminated flat rubble- and garbage-strewn acreage 
south of Lake Shore Ave. E. and east of Parliament St. owned by Home Depot 
of Canada.

Despite the blackened shards of the portable shelter that burned to the 
ground this summer, the remaining portable shelters brought in as stopgap 
housing last winter by the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee are still the 
hub of the community.

It's an unsightly centre. Tent City residents, many of them addicts, ignore 
the soggy heaps of old food, walk past encrusted pots on the ground, and 
overlook the three-legged chairs and old building supplies dumped everywhere.

Add to this regular visits - sometimes several times a day - from Michael 
Meraw, driving a truck he calls Agape, who delivers load after load of his 
treasures, from canisters to costumes, to the site as his way of helping out.

But still they stay.

What began three years ago with a handful of homeless people who were 
willing to stay outside if only they could be left alone has become a 
barometer for the homeless condition in Toronto.

This summer, with Toronto shelters full most nights and one, Street City, 
in the final stages of closing, quietly and steadily more and more people 
began moving into Tent City. There are now more than double the number of 
squatters here than at any other time in its history.

And today the disaster relief committee is holding a news conference to ask 
donations of insulation, woodstoves and other items to help Tent City 
people make it through the winter as well as to emphasize that these people 
have no place else to go.

Toronto housing staff recently rejected a proposal by an ad hoc committee 
of the disaster relief committee and Tent City residents to build temporary 
housing this winter for 60 to 70 people on city-owned land at 525 
Commissioners St.

This week council votes whether to accept the staff-recommended proposal 
for the site from Homes First Society. It is to house 32 people, including 
about a half dozen from Tent City, but it will not be ready for occupancy 
until February or March, 2002.

Tent City resident Karl Schmidt, a committee member, says he and his 
neighbours feel betrayed. "Where are we supposed to go now?" he asks. But 
other residents say they never had their hopes up anyway.

Disaster relief committee member Cathy Crowe says the committee won't be 
able to rent and run the generators that gave some heat and light to the 16 
to 20 people who stayed at Tent City all last winter.

"We may not even be able to pay the bills for the six portable toilets," 
she says. Each costs $150 a month.

Paul MacDonald says he's not worried. He lives in an orange pup tent barely 
visible in the brush, where few visit. Nevertheless, he has decided to 
build a church there.

"We are like a real community," he says. "It will be nice to have a church."

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