Toronto: STREET DEATH

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@idirect.com)
Fri, 05 Feb 1999 07:22:35 -0500


I attended the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee meeting yesterday
evening... this man in fact was the fifth homeless person to die since
January 31 in Toronto. Calls into serious question what is actually
considered a 'homeless death.'
Graeme
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February 5, 1999

Death of homeless man renews call to create more affordable housing

STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR

STREET DEATH: The body of a homeless man in his 50s or 60s was
discovered yesterday on a heating grate near Queen's Park. The man has
not yet been identified and police don't know how he died.

By Kellie Hudson
and Michelle Shephard
Toronto Star Staff Reporters

A homeless man was found dead on a heating grate yesterday, across the
street from Queen's Park.

The man, believed to be in his 50s or 60s, has not been identified, nor
has the cause of death been determined. Police believe it's the first
recorded death of a homeless person in Toronto this year.

An autopsy was to be held today.

A Toronto Hydro worker called police around 11 a.m. yesterday after
finding the man buried under old blankets, sleeping bags and pieces of
cardboard on a grate in front of the Whitney Block building on Queen's
Park Cres.

The man's body was removed just before 1 p.m. A police officer later
retrieved his meagre possessions: a cardboard box, two sleeping bags, a
blue tarp, jeans, a bottle of water, some plastic bags and an unopened
can of corn.

``He was a good guy,'' said one man as he watched the body being put on
a gurney from the coroner's office. ``I used to give him smokes once in
a while.''

A young woman watched reporters interviewing politicians who crossed the
street from Queen's Park. She shook her head.

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`Someone in need died, and whether they died on Queen St. or Queen's
Park, it is a tragedy. I don't know anybody who wouldn't feel that way
about it.''
- Janet Ecker
Ontario social services minister
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``I've watched a number of MPPs walk past here without even so much as
glancing at homeless people living on the grates.
``I think sometimes they're even on their way to a meeting to talk about
homelessness. They don't get it.''

Councillor Jack Layton, who has been pushing the homelessness issue at
Toronto council, met with reporters last night on the heating grate
where the man had been sleeping for months to emphasize the need for
more services.

He used the opportunity to announce some new projects that will be
funded from a $1 million payment the city recently received from the
province to deal with homelessness.

Anishnawbe Health Centre will get $50,000 of that money to pay
counsellors to work with homeless natives who want to get off the
street, Layton said.

Layton (Don River) also said that, while funding for Toronto hostel
services is split with the province on an 80-20 basis, Queen's Park is
about $7 million behind in its payments to the city.

``The result is that the shelters are crowded, we don't have enough
staff to help homeless people, and the result is that you end up with
people staying out on the street and dying.

``The funding for housing that needs to be there just isn't.''

Anne Golden, who prepared the Mayor's Homeless Action Task Force report,
says the issue is why the man died, not where.

``The issue of which grate he died on is irrelevant,'' Golden said in a
telephone interview.

``It is so sad to think of someone dying on a grate, in a city as rich
as ours. It highlights the need for swift action on the recommen-
dations that we've put forward. We have to focus not just on the tragedy
that happened, but why and how he got there, and on prevention.''

Among the 105 recommendations in her 300-page report, released last
month and currently being reviewed by the municipal and provincial
governments, Golden calls on the province to establish a shelter
allowance for low-income tenants, adjust the shelter portion of welfare
to better reflect Ontario's varying housing markets, and build 5,000 new
low-income housing units within the next five years in Toronto.

A year in the making, Golden's report also urged all levels of
government to subsidize land costs, waive the GST and PST on building
supplies for low-cost housing units, modify property taxes and create a
new system of capital grants.

Provincial Social Services Minister Janet Ecker says the province is
looking at the report's recommendations ``to see what more can be
done.''

``We do have a role, and we are prepared to undertake that role. We have
already increased the financial resources for shelters, for supports for
shelters.

``There has been and is a significant financial contribution and we're
looking at those recommendations to see what more can be done.

``Someone in need died, and whether they died on Queen St. or Queen's
Park, it is a tragedy,'' Ecker said. ``I don't know anybody who wouldn't
feel that way about it.''

Chris Stockwell, speaker of the Legislature, called the man's death a
``terribly unfortunate situation,'' but noted it could have happened
anywhere in the city.

``Whether they die here or anywhere in the city, or any building, it's
the same. It's a tragic situation.''

There are about six homeless people who regularly hang out around
Queen's Park, Stockwell said.

Security guards patrol the Queen's Park and government services
properties three or four times a night.

``The policy for us is to basically ensure that they're okay, they're
safe,'' Stockwell said. ``If they are safe, we ask them to move on, as
long as they're not in any danger.

``If they are, we call the appropriate people. We do our best to try to
maintain a certain degree of helpfulness around Queen's Park, but
obviously, sometimes it isn't enough.''

Alison Kemper, who co-chairs the city committee that deals with socially
isolated people, said the man's death shows that, while improvements
have been made this winter, people are still dying on the street.

``We're tired of being a growth industry and tired of seeing our people
die.''

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With files from Catherine Dunphy and Jack Lakey


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