Invite homeless people to City Hall for shelter? Useful tactic?

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 8 Jun 1999 20:47:09 -0700 (PDT)


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Could an offer of City Hall for shelter help to keep politicians' "feet to
the fire" about governments' responsibility to reduce and end homelessness?

For a related news story, see below:

http://www.thestar.com/thestar/editorial/toronto/990608NEW01c_CI-JAGT8.html
FWD  Toronto Star -  June 8, 1999

     THE BUREAUCRAT WHO LED HOMELESS TO METRO HALL

     `I came from poverty,' hostel director says

     By Catherine Dunphy  - Toronto Star Feature Writer

 He's a seasoned bureaucrat, a cautious man.

 So why has Toronto's hostel services director John Jagt brought the city
and its politicians to the brink by bringing the homeless to Metro Hall?

 Why did he say, loudly and often during the past weekend, they will stay
there until suitable shelter is found or else he'll quit the job he's held
for 25 years to the month?

 ``I came from poverty until I went to university,'' Jagt says. ``I realize
how hard a hole it is to crawl out of.''

 Jagt's parents emigrated from the Netherlands in 1950 with five children
under 10, as part of a farm settlement program. They were assigned for a
year to a farm near Magnetawan, northeast of Parry Sound, where the family
lived in a shed with a dirt floor for four months.

 Every one of his six brothers and two sisters went to university.

 ``My father was raised on biblical principles,'' says Jagt's son, Brian.
``He has based his life on `What you do for the least, you do for me.' ''

 Jagt, a 53-year-old grandfather of two, lives in Oakville.

 But he knows what lies ahead for Toronto - a long hot summer of homelessness.

 ``It looks increasingly hopeless,'' he says. ``I don't see any light at
the end of the tunnel.''

 Since as early as March he's been sounding the alarm, sending up flares
that hundreds more beds for the homeless had to be found, and fast.

 His staff combed the city for five weeks for warehouse space for a
shelter. Rocked by neighbourhood protests, the bright glare of publicity
and a council edict that more space must be found any time hostel capacity
tops 90 per cent, they were pressed to find space.

 Normally pragmatic, Jagt sounds bitter recounting how he had to ``beg''
for more time for the homeless at Fort York armoury, a temporary facility
opened last November, and how it was grudgingly given only if he gives his
word to never ask again.

 He thought the city had a three-year deal with the landlord of a
long-empty, former fish-processing plant at 307 Lake Shore Ave. E. But Jagt
said a lawyer for the landlord called him at the last minute to pull out of
the deal, and in frustration Jagt opened up Metro Hall.

 He tries to play down the dramatic move.

 ``I had worked a 19-hour day on Friday and our clientele had been pushed
from pillar to post, literally,'' he says.

 He says he wasn't risking anything, insisting he's ``a most unlikely
hero'' who wasn't threatening anybody and had no particular plan when he
acted. But, he adds, ``I knew what I was saying when I was saying it. I
don't say things I don't want to.''

 By 7 p.m. Friday, his office staff were ready with a buffet of food and
offers of shelter for those who showed up at the fish-packing plant and
found it locked and quiet.

 ``He's trying to help us and he is,'' said Rob Czuczwara, one of the
homeless staying at Metro Hall. ``That thing about him resigning isn't
bulls---. He's not going to throw us out of here. I think he's getting
tired of it all coming down on his shoulders.''

 But some homeless advocates can't believe the man they view as a big, bad
bureaucrat is suddenly putting his job on the line for their cause.

 ``He's been stonewalling us since October,'' says one activist.

 It's well known around city hall that relations are frosty between Jagt
and the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, the group that pushed Toronto
council to declare homelessness a national disaster.

 An imposing man, Jagt stands well over 6 feet tall and is always
impeccably dressed. His office on the 12th floor of Metro Hall is orderly
and spare, the door usually open. His staff is loyal to him and to the
cause of housing the homeless.

 Just don't cross him.

 Jagt ordered his staff not to deal with anyone from the Ontario Coalition
Against Poverty on any matter in 1997 when the group protested outside the
home of his brother, Peter, manager of the Yonge-Eglinton social services
office about a welfare penalty to a refugee.

 Until recently, says Brian Jagt, his father never took his work home with
him.

 ``He is definitely more stressed these days,'' he says.

 Jagt is the type who smokes a couple times a year, only when he's under
pressure.

 Last Friday evening, as three vans were delivering the homeless to Metro
Hall for the night, he was seen on King St., looking for cigarettes.

END FORWARD

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