Activists Demand for Action in Aid of The Homeless
On Tuesday, as a result of the death of another homeless person, an Aboriginal man who froze to death in a stairwell at Yonge and Charles, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty organized an emergency action at Toronto City Hall. According to Gaetan Heroux, an OCAP organizer, city officials laughably claimed that there were adequate shelter spaces and service provisions for the homeless, defying claims by the very people, social workers and others, staffed at the shelters.
After speeches at Nathan Phillips Square, around 40 supporters entered the council chambers. A number of activists walked on to the council floor to distribute letters to councillors; in response, security guards pulled them back out to the gallery and the speaker abruptly called for a recess. Most councillors and staff left the chambers but a number stayed behind.
Activists began making pronouncements; Heroux exclaimed, “we warned you, we said if you don't do something, people will die on your streets”. The crowd demanded an end to the reduction of shelter beds and the provision of affordable housing. After approximately 10 minutes, police officers moved in and a councillor, possibly Paul Ainslie, taunted the crowd, “get these troublemakers out of here, lock them up!”
As supporters moved out and waited for the elevator, a police officer, unprovoked, began to shove the people waiting. A man fell as a result, and the aggravated crowd attempted to convince the officer to stop; one had her bag searched. With the situation now under control, activists dispersed.
According to AM640 Toronto, Adam Vaughn agreed with the activists, but contended that, “we're trying to handle it here but we are handling it with very scarce resources." Doug Holyday, a right-wing councillor, also agreed that something had to be done but nonsensically argued that the homeless did not know the temperature, and that the correct action would be to force them into shelters. This ignores the issue of safety and violence within the shelter system that discourages its use by the homeless, as well as, issues of shelter overcrowding. Despite opening a new 60-bed shelter, 258 beds were closed, resulting in a cumulative reduction of 199 beds.