Toronto Homeless Memorial

Bonnie Briggs (
Sat, 08 May 1999 13:06:16 PDT

Hi gang,
  Here is what happened at the Toronto Homeless Memorial on May 6/99. We had 
a bright, sunny day, much to our relief. The forecasters had been calling 
for rain for that day, but luckily, the rain went around us. I got there 
early with the other organizers to help set up. the chairs had already been 
set up and the musicians were going through their sound checks. We unloaded 
the van which had been packed to the roof with signs, a big banner, paper 
cups, flatware, napkins, and plates, juice, tins of coffee, plastic 
tablecloths, cloths for clean-up, and my big drum. We were pleased to see 
that the food arrived at the same time as we were able to start setting it 
up right away. A few of the tables which were under the awning were set up 
as food tables. We had sandwiches, cabbage rolls, cole slaw, pasta salad, 
and perogies. A couple of other tables were set up for drinks. There was 
coffee, tea, juice, lemonade, and water. One table was set up as a 
literature table with posters about the memorial, left-over big posters for 
people to take away, and the various letters of solidarity we had received 
from Vancouver, British Columbia, London, Ontario, and Edmonton, Alberta. 
There was a bit of a breeze, so we had to tie the papers down so they 
wouldn't blow away.
  Shortly after 12:00, the people started arriving. The food lines soon got 
very long. the food was free for homeless people and we were asking for 
donations from everyone else. I don't know how much was raised, I didn't 
have a chance to ask anyone about that.
  The memorial started, as it always does, with a solemn procession with a 
cardboard coffin. The coffin symbolizes the homeless who have died on the 
street. The coffin was placed in front of the stage and a white sheet was 
draped over it. Flowers were also placed on top of the coffin. Markers were 
provided and people were asked to come up during the memorial to write, on 
the sheet, the names of people they knew who had died on the street. Sadly, 
as with other years, the sheet soon became covered with names.  We, then, 
had music from Bittersweet, a band that has played for us before. We also 
had music from Daisy DeBolt and the Eagle Heart Drummers, a Native drumming 
circle. We had three invited speakers; Mike Crawford, a former homeless 
person and activist, A.J. Rohmer, a present homeless person and John Clarke, 
Provincial Organizer for OCAP. Mike Crawford has spoken at the Memorial 
every year since it started. On May 6/99, he spoke of his anger at the fact 
that we have to keep having this memorial every year and nothing seems to 
change. The common thread running through everyone's speeches was that 
Harris has caused untold misery in this province and must be defeated on 
June 3/99, election day. we also had two spots of Open Mike for the homeless 
to have their say. This when I read two of the letters of solidarity and two 
of my poems, all of which were very well received. Several of the homeless 
people spoke of the anger out on the streets because they see what Harris is 
doing and they see the suffering that he is causing.
  Soon, it was time to go to the Tory Campaign Headquarters. the coffin led 
the procession with me on my drum, and many people following behind. We had 
signs and  our banner which read "Homeless Memorial; Remembering..." We also 
had noise makers of every description, including party horns, harmonicas, 
whistles, bike horns, and shakers, as well as voices. We marched down Queen 
Street to University, went along University to Adelaide and along Adelaide 
to the Tory Campaign Headquarters. There, with the towers resonating to the 
sounds of people venting their anger on the megaphone, we had a "die-in". 
Some of us laid down on the sidewalk right in front of the doors and other 
people chalked around us. Soon, there were many chalk outlines on the 
sidewalk. "Jane Doe #1", "John Doe #2" eg. were written inside the chalk 
outlines to symbolize the fact that many homeless people die faceless and 
nameless. Many people, including myself, were calling for Harris to come out 
and meet with us, but no one came. (What a surprise, eh?) Finally, John 
Clarke gave a stirring wrap-up speech to finish off the memorial and the 
demo. The police were close by, but they didn't interfere, for once. Then, 
everyone slowly dispersed and went home. I went back to the office with the 
organizers because it is close to where I live.
  It was a good Memorial, but we're already talking about next year's 
Memorial. I look forward to the day when we can say "we don't have to do 
this any more. Let's have a party to celebrate the end of the Homeless 
Memorial. We have to retire the coffin." however, unless things change and 
until Government starts taking responsibility for the homeless problem, I 
don't see that day coming anytime soon. Let's start working towards that 
day. On June 3rd, get out and vote. let's send Mike Harris back to the Back 
Nine where he belongs. Down with the Harris Government!
  There's my report. It's a lot more complete than the newspaper's account, 
eh? Comments?

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