SK-L: TORONTO: Street Kids (fwd)

Leslie Schentag (
Fri, 10 Jul 1998 22:49:35 -0700 (PDT)

Here is a email I got today. 
What's happening in Toronto is the same kind of thing that is happening
here in Victoria. 

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 10 Jul 1998 19:05:08 GMT-5
From: Streetkid-L Distribution <>
Subject: SK-L: TORONTO: Street Kids

Streetkid-L: Promoting awareness of the plight of street children
and other children at risk worldwide. Your participation is welcome.


Tuesday July 7, 5:59 pm Eastern Time

FEATURE-Toronto squeegee kids dodge the law for change

By Masaru Sato 

TORONTO, July 7 (Reuters) - Dusty has been living on the street in
downtown Toronto for five years, away from parents she says are drug

Originally from Vancouver, the 21-year-old is part a swelling army of
street kids who dodge police while trying to make ends meet by
cleaning the windshields of Toyotas and Mercedes racing through
Canada's booming financial capital.

While bank and corporate profits grow in a country known around the
world for its prosperity and freedom, drifters and Toronto natives
squat in abandoned buildings or sleep in shelters, in parks and on the
beaches of Lake Ontario.

Clad in military and neo-punk gear, young people armed with squeegees
and buckets dive into automobile traffic amid the gleaming towers of
the financial district and surrounding fashion streets to earn a buck
wiping windshields.

Some say they can earn C$100 to C$200 on a sunny day, on their own or
shared with a helper, if they work hard and are lucky enough to escape
police patrols mobilizing in Toronto in response to complaints from
local merchants and residents.

For some Canadians the kids are pests, but for others they are a sign
of the social cost of dismantling a once generous welfare state and of
Canada's growing family problems.

Swinging a squeegee in her leather-gloved hand, Dusty spits out her
reaction to the government's claim that the nation's economic
performance is the best in years: ``It's getting better for the


Nose-ringed and blade-haired, Emma, an 18-year-old New Yorker, joined
her this year. She says she left an alcoholic mother behind and feels
much safer here. ``In Manhattan, they'll shoot you if you touch their
cars. People are nuts.''

At another corner, Toronto-born Brett, 20, complains about the heated
competition in summer. Pointing at a group of drifters, he said:
``Some guys come here only in summer. They think it's cool. They want
money for drugs and traveling.''

Brett and his 19-year-old friend, Trench, who say they are wielding
squeegees year-round to save enough money to share an apartment,
criticize the drifters for triggering police crackdowns by
intimidating drivers.

``You don't get to spend as much time on the corner now. Cops come and
harass you and they tell you to leave,'' Sheena Durant, who has lived
on the street for six months, explained. ``People seem to be getting
belligerent about it too.''

Durant, 18, recalls the truck driver who pulled away before she could
move and cuffed her with his side mirror, leaving her with a
dislocated shoulder. She left a drug habit and a broken family in
Halifax, Nova Scotia, and came to Toronto a year ago with no money,
just a bag of clothes and two cigarettes.

After squatting with friends, starving and paranoid about dying from
hypothermia in winter, she knocked on the door of an alternative
community school. There she has been learning social skills such as
patience and teamwork in workshops since February, which entitles her
to student welfare.

She gets a welfare check of C$475 a month, C$280 of which pays rent
for a room in a house shared with seven other people. Since more than
half her allotment goes to housing, she still uses her squeegee, but
she is one of the few success stories.


Many others are desperately looking for shelters and some do not have
the energy to get off the street. Often the color of their skin works
against them.

``There's racial discrimination,'' said Michelle Heath, coordinator at
the Meeting Place, a daytime weekday shelter. She says race, combined
with low income, makes it hard for many even to find a place to live.

By 2000, ``visible minorities'' (non-Caucasian) will become the
majority of Toronto's population of some 3 million.

Belt-tightening by the federal and provincial governments and the end
of rent control have made it increasingly tough for the poor to get
affordable housing and to qualify for programs that might keep them
off the street.

``I think there needs to be a recognition that for people to be able
to get jobs, they need to have education to be able to compete. And
the connection is not readily there,'' Heath said.

Canada's generous immigration policy and reputation for safe streets
has turned Toronto into a magnet for immigrants from Asia, Africa, the
Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean. And the city's image of
opportunity continues to draw job seekers from across the country.

In downtown Toronto, panhandlers slouch on every corner. Some sit
listlessly cap in hand, others actively solicit for ``spare change''
at bus stops, bank machines and stop lights.


In the subway, a black-and-white poster shows a forlorn woman huddled
under a sheet. It reads: ``Life needs RESPECT.'' It is a campaign
slogan of the Toronto chapter of the United Way, a North American
umbrella group funding projects to help the thousands of homeless and
others whose livelihood is at risk.

While politicians boast of national economic growth projected to be
above three percent, the highest among the Group of Seven industrial
nations this year, Canada's jobless rate, although declining, is still
over eight percent, double that of the United States.

World Bank data based on global norms show poverty does not exist in
Canada. But the United Way estimates 17.6 percent of Canadian adults
and 20 percent of children were living in what it calls poverty in
1996. A family of four with C$31,753 in Toronto would spend 70 percent
or more of its income on food, shelter and clothing, putting it on the
border line.

Its survey shows more than 168,000 people in Toronto are either
homeless or at risk of becoming so. The majority are adults aged 25-49
but youth under 25 are a fast-growing group.

Former street kid Sheena is scathing about a proposed Toronto law that
would prohibit begging from anybody in a car and within 30 feet (10
metres) of a bus stop, subway station, bank teller machine or liquor

``Putting them in jail and giving us tickets, that's not going to make
it go away,'' she said. ``You walk down the street and you're probably
going to be hit 10 times by panhandlers, it's true. But this should be
a big wake-up call for a lot of people.''

($1 equals $1.47 Canadian) 

Streetkid-L Resource Page:
Listowner:, John Brown University