The city of Toronto has decided not to ignore the homeless any longer - only it's not the kind of attention anti-poverty activists were hoping for from what's supposed to be a more socially conscious council. Lost amid all the budget debating last week was a motion passed by council instructing city staff to keep public spaces "clear and unobstructed" for pedestrian traffic. To hear the motion's mover, Parkdale-High Park councillor Bill Saundercook, tell it, the homeless "don't have the right to leave their belongings on street corners." Most of council seemed to agree, voting 27 to 17 in favour and citing the coming tourist season as their reason. Mayor David Miller voted against it.
"Homeless people and dirty sleeping bags on the streets tell visitors that our city is not working," says Don Valley West councillor Jane Pitfield, a supporter of the motion. "It all contributes to our city having a bad reputation."
Pitfield, who also chairs the homeless advisory committee, submitted a motion of her own recommending that Toronto request assistance from the provincial government to address the issue of the homeless sleeping in public spaces. This motion passed, too, by a vote of 35 to nine.
Under Saundercook's proposal, city workers will decide what constitutes garbage to be removed, without taking into account that one person's trash may be another's treasure. Rachel Huot, from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), says possessions are possessions and that "no one should throw away other people's things. A cardboard box is a home for some people."
Eglinton-Lawrence councillor Howard Moscoe voted against Saundercook's motion, calling it "an orchestrated attempt on the part of the right wing of council to deal with the problem of homelessness superficially."
Toronto-Danforth councillor Paula Fletcher, another who voted against it, was appalled. "I am affronted. The homeless-hating Harris government is now retired, and the first move by the city, with a new government at Queen's Park, is an anti-homelessness motion." But several on council's left voted for Saundercook's proposal, among them downtown councillors Kyle Rae and Pam McConnell.
McConnell did not respond to requests for comment, but Rae contends that "this is not about cleaning up the homeless but removing garbage from parks." He adds, "I can't support allowing people to sleep on the streets when we have facilities for them.'
OCAP's Huot says it's too bad the homeless offend tourists who come to our city and "don't see the glittery postcard they expect.'