Toronto proposes street sweeps?

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@idirect.com)
Sat, 9 Oct 1999 05:01:02 -0400


Carrot for builders, stick for street staff 

New ideas needed for homelessness, budget chief says 

By Bruce DeMara 
Toronto Star City Hall Bureau

Toronto budget chief Tom Jakobek is proposing major new
incentives to encourage the construction of affordable housing
and new powers for social workers to remove homeless people
from the streets. 

Jakobek said he wants a law to make it illegal to sleep on city
streets and to give street workers - not police officers - the
authority to make the homeless use city-funded shelters. 

``I know where my critics will come from. I know they'll say I'm
out to incarcerate and arrest and pull these poor people off the
street. 

``That's nonsense. I never will say that,'' Jakobek said. 

``Under no circumstances would I support a paddy wagon
going down the street with the police. I don't believe in that. I
believe in reinforcing street workers and social workers and if
necessary . . . giving them more authority than they have.'' 

Jakobek said an incentive program offered in New York city
requires developers of rental housing to set aside 20 per cent of
their units to be rented at half the market rate. 

In exchange, the city would give the owner a 15-year property
tax holiday. An additional incentive would be for the province
to forgive the sales tax on construction. 

``I am told by . . . a number of very large residential builders
they would construct under those terms. I am waiting to get
that in writing from some of these large companies,'' Jakobek
said. 

Councillor Jack Layton (Don River), chair of the city's
homelessness task force, said he doubts social workers want
the authority they would be given under Jakobek's plan. 

``You'll have to have a police officer behind the social worker
 saying, `You pick up that homeless person and take them
 inside,' because I don't know any social workers who will do
 that,'' Layton said. 

``No social worker I've ever spoken to would do that (force
homeless people inside). It's almost contrary to their training to
do anything forceful like that,'' Layton said. 

David Hulchanski, a professor of housing at the University of
Toronto's social work faculty, said Jakobek's idea amounts to a
``general roundup'' of the homeless, something social workers
won't want to be part of. 

``Social workers have no special knowledge or ability to engage
in an assessment of somebody on the street that looks odd, so
you're either going to round them up or not. That's dangerous,''
Hulchanski said. 

``If it's a vulnerable person who absolutely can't take care of
(himself), I should hope we're doing something for that person,''
he said. 

``But if it's people who don't look like middle-class people . . . I
don't want that kind of society where we give people the power
frankly to arbitrarily round up people because of the way they
look,'' he added. 

Hulchanski said incentives to developers to build rental
housing are helpful but may not be enough to solve the
problem in a market where land is expensive and condo and
single-family home construction is more profitable. 

 ``A temporary property tax holiday is very helpful but its impact
on the bottom line is very, very small in terms of encouraging
rental investment,'' Hulchanski said. 

Layton said he's pleased the city's budget chief is proposing tax
incentives but agreed the city alone cannot solve the housing
shortage. 

 ``From the budget chief, that's a good recognition . . . that we
should put city resources in. But city tax resources can never
provide enough housing to solve the problem we have now,''
Layton said. 

Layton noted the city is already offering developers of rental
housing the same property tax rate over eight years as that for
single-family homes, which is about one-quarter of the tax on
multi-residential units. 

Jakobek said new ideas - like banning people from sleeping on
the streets - have to be tried to solve the city's homelessness
crisis because existing ones aren't working. 

 ``I think we're just taking the wrong approach here and the only
proof I have of that is that the problem is getting worse, not
better. It's not going to change until we get tough, strong or
 vigilant,'' Jakobek said. 

 ``I'm asking myself that question, should a person be allowed to
sleep on the street? My answer and I believe the general
public's is No.''