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

Graeme Bacque (
Wed, 09 Jun 1999 01:37:27 -0400

Tom Boland wrote:
> 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:

Since I live in Toronto I feel in the position to provide a couple of
points of information here and a bit of a history lesson.

First of all, this is _Metro_ Hall (not City Hall) that is being
utilized for emergency shelter.

At one point the City of Toronto was one of six member cities under the
umbrella of the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto (the other five
were Etobicoke, Scarborough, York, North York and the Borough of East
York). As well as each of these six municipalities having their own city
council each also elected members separately to the Metro Toronto level.
This council (which handled services  such as policing and social
services) was based out of Metro Hall - which is a few blocks southwest
of Toronto City Hall itself.

In 1997 the Ontario government passed legislation which amalgamated all
six member cities of the old Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto into
one entity - the City of Toronto. (which always existed in any event -
basically what this legislation did was to make it absorb its smaller
neighbors). This also eliminated the councils of five out of six of
these municipalities as well as the Metro level of government. (A new
City council was elected in November of 1997. Mel Lastman - the former
Mayor of North York - won election as Mayor of the new City of Toronto). 

The new Council conducted its business at Metro Hall for about a year
while the Toronto City Hall underwent extensive (and costly!)
renovations. They moved back to City Hall earlier this year, and Metro
Hall is now largely in disuse. It is the cafeteria area on the ground
floor of MH that is now serving as temporary home to forty or fifty
people a night.

John Jagt (the 'senior bureaucrat' referred to in the article) has been
head of Toronto's hostel services for a good many years. (I've been
following his antics for probably the last fifteen years or so myself).
More recently he has displayed a tendency to downplay just how drastic
the shortage of beds is, claiming that 'there are always available beds'
even in the worst weather, and more or less attributing peoples' being
outside to a matter of 'personal choice.' 

In March the City Council voted in a policy that would bring emergency
beds online if the regular shelters were at greater than 90 per cent of
capacity. Subsequently, it took weeks of constant pressure on Mr. Jagt
to bring about the opening of the Fort York Armory, even thopugh the
hostels had been at or over capacity nearly every night. (OCAP verified
this through periodic telephone surveys of area hostel vacancies). Now,
with the armory closing down (displacing 150 to 200 people), and three
other shelters slated to close by early July, the situation has
deteriorated to the point where Jagt and his cronies can no longer
obscure the truth - hence the apparent flip-flop.

Bringing homeless people to City Hall can under the right circumstances
have a tremendous impact- but it all depends on the reasoning behind it,
and who is actually 'leading the charge', so to speak. Regrettably,
where it is some bureaucrat trying to cover for his own protracted
fuckups, I can't see it happening - unless these dynamics piss people
off sufficiently to set other action in motion. The Toronto Star's
trying to portray Jagt as some kind of 'tragic hero' in this situation
is ridiculous.