Helping the poor to be heard

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@arcos.org)
Fri, 05 Jun 1998 05:36:00 -0400


June 5, 1998=20

=A0Helping the poor to be heard=20

ANTI-POVERTY activists have a new in-your-face attitude and campaign aimed
at improving the lot of the city's outcasts.

Some Toronto councillors got an up-front view of the unpleasant strategy
this week. They didn't like what they saw.=20

Led by Gloria Lindsay Luby, a well-manicured, suburban councillor who
chairs the city's Grants Committee, politicians met Monday to hear
supplicants say why their city grants should be maintained.=20

John Clarke and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty had other ideas. A
well-known homeless man died on the weekend. Street workers blamed his
demise on the lack of accommodations, and wanted council to re-open the 50
beds it closed down at the Salvation Army hostel on Yonge St. - following
complaints from area businesses and Councillor Kyle Rae.=20

The activists crashed the meeting and threatened to turn the committee room
into an emergency shelter, replete with sleeping bags.=20

Maybe Lindsay Luby, ensconced in Etobicoke for all her political life,
didn't know about these provocateurs. Maybe she didn't know they even
resort to the despicable strategy of picketing the homes of public
officials whom they consider inimical.=20

This was the wrong forum, she scolded. Her meeting was about grants, not
hostels.=20

``A 28-year-old man died last night, a brother,'' a protester said,
undeterred.=20

``We have an important deputation to hear.''=20

``What's more important than a life?'' snapped Sue Collis, her top lip
turned up in a scowl.=20

``I'm sorry, we have an agenda,'' Lindsay Luby insisted.=20

``Where are these people going to go? Where will all these people go?``
street worker Gaetan Heroux kept repeating.=20

As the Metro Hall security squad eagerly moved in to evict the interlopers,
another suburban councillor intervened.=20

Joanne Flint, councillor for the Bridle Path, home to Conrad Black, Thomas
Bata and other rich and famous, gently reminded Lindsay Luby that a
``sincere'' effort to listen to the activists might defuse the situation,
especially, she said in her disarming way, seeing that the councillors
would all be off to comfortable homes following the meeting.=20

The way cleared, Heroux launched a passionate defence.=20

``To do our work, we need hostels, we need housing; and if you keep
shutting them down and shutting them down, we have no answer. You have to
give us something to work with. Some of us are damn good workers. You have
to start listening to these people.=20

``If there was a fire down the street and two or three families were burnt
out of their homes, the whole community would come together and find them a
home and take care of them. You just put 50 people on the streets and it's
not a crisis?''=20

The activists really wanted to get at Councillor Kyle Rae, who told The
Star the reason for closing down the hostel was that ``operating a hostel
in the middle of a tourist area is incompatible. People are intimidated and
terrified.''=20

This is the same Rae who wants street vendors scooped up and squeegee kids
and panhandlers cleared from city streets.=20

With Rae not at the meeting, it was left to Shirley Hoy, the city's most
senior bureaucrat in charge of social services, to face the music.=20

Homeless shelters need the trust and support of the community to work, Hoy
said.=20

When you close a shelter because a ``bunch of tourists and businesses and
politicians don't want it and because it isn't pretty, then we have a
problem here,'' Clarke said.=20

Last year, 28,000 different Torontonians were homeless.=20


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Royson James' column on municipal affairs runs on this page Wednesday and
Friday.=20

Contents copyright =A9 1996-1998, The=A0Toronto=A0Star.
User interface, selection and arrangement copyright =A9 1996-1998,
Torstar=A0Electronic=A0Publishing=A0Ltd.=20

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