Homeless man dies next to premier's office

Jenny (jennyo@intergate.bc.ca)
Fri, 5 Feb 1999 08:57:43 -0800 (PST)


Friday 5 February 1999
 
  TORONTO (CP) - A homeless man was found dead Thursday lying on a grate
overlooked by Ontario Premier Mike Harris's legislative office.

The slightly built man, covered by the sleeping bags, plastic tarpaulin and
cardboard boxes that were his only possessions, had considered the grounds
of the Ontario legislature his home almost every night since the new year.

Bunkered down on the warm, steamy grate regularly by 11 p.m, he generally
moved on by the time civil servants and politicians arrived for work.

On Thursday morning, he didn't wake up - and his death has highlighted the
continuing homelessness crisis in Canada's largest city.

A coroner, suspecting no foul play, could say little about the man or his
death. His time on the streets had even made it difficult to determine
whether he was in his 40s or his 60s.

 Tony Ruprecht, an Ontario Liberal, said he called street workers twice in
the last three weeks to provide hot coffee and blankets for the man and two
others who slept nearby.

 "This obviously is an example of the crisis that comes right to our front
steps" said Ruprecht.

  A group that works with the homeless was quick to point out that, sadly,
such deaths shouldn't shock anyone.  "Unfortunately, given the overcrowded
and stressed situation in our existing shelter system, another death caused
by homelessness is not surprising" said the Toronto Disaster Relief
Committee in a statement.

The committee has urged the province to open up two of the city's downtown
armouries to shelter the homeless.  A recent report concluded that Toronto's
homeless are no longer simply single males addicted to alcohol or drugs -
the poverty in the city has become so severe that even entire families now
spend spend their nights on the streets.

"While we have the Golden report and others recommending coordination by the
municipal, provincial and federal governments, this obviously is not coming
quickly enough" said Ruprecht.

Anne Golden, who studied the roots of homelessness for more than a year,
concluded that all levels of government should significantly increase
subsidies for affordable housing.

Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman immediately agreed.  But despite hearing of the
death of the man outside her boss's office, Social Services Minister Janet
Ecker said Thursday the province needs to study the situation more before
acting.

"It's a tragedy that this individual has passed away" she said. "But there
are no quick fixes."

Harris, who was sitting down to a meeting with Prime Minister Jean Chretien
to ask for more money when the homeless man was discovered dead, had no comment.
Asked whether his government, which called off plans to build any new
subsidized housing, should take any responsibility, Harris simply shrugged
and walked away.