as members of homes not bombs began their fourth month of weekly vigils at Moss Park Armoury recently, they received the second official response to their idea of transforming the armouries from war training camps into housing for the homeless. In an August 28 letter as crass as it is direct, Defence Minister John McCallum states that "the provision of Canadian Forces armouries for use as homeless shelters interferes with military training, and this has an adverse effect on operational readiness."
In other words, people must continue to die on our streets so that Canadian soldiers can be trained to kill people abroad.
McCallum ignores the fact that Toronto city council has called on the federal government to open the armouries and that homelessness has been a declared national emergency.
A day after we learned that a homeless man who'd been beaten in Allan Gardens had died in hospital, we reflected on the fact that throughout July and August the massive structure at Jarvis and Queen sat virtually empty and unused, save for the staff who are kept on to monitor our vigils. The only occupancy we saw this summer was by World Youth Day delegates.
Last week, a couple of vigil members walked into the armoury itself, only to discover a number of men standing around shooting the breeze (better that than a rifle). They insisted we leave, but we started asking them questions instead, all the while noting that the massive armoury auditorium sat dark, empty and fairly cool.
"We are on parade every night," the commander of the 48th Highlanders informed us.
This was news to us. Each Tuesday evening when we're at the armoury, we see little, if any, activity taking place inside -- mainly a small marching band practicing. They usually move outside to get away from the echoing noise of their own bagpipes.
The commander also informed us that the vigil is "costing us," as they need to station extra people at the armoury to watch over the facility whenever we're outside. Once again, the federal response to homelessness is to put in place more guards.
Since the second week in June, when Moss Park was declared a military security zone because of our weekly presence, soldiers have been checking the ID of those taking part in our vigils, claiming that this measure has been in place since 9/11.
We know this to be untrue. We've also gone by the armoury at all times of day and night and found the gates wide open, no guards in sight.
On a political level, the campaign to get the feds to declare Moss Park surplus federal property for affordable housing has been stonewalled.
Some city councillors who have made good careers as spokespeople for the voiceless have said, in response to our requests for support, that they don't interfere with issues in other wards. But that hasn't prevented them from voting on other related issues, like the shelter bylaw, the motion to open Fort York Armoury as a shelter or the motion to support the Pope Squat's demands for truly affordable housing. Others have shamelessly refused to respond to a stream of letters, phone calls, faxes and e-mails.
Federally, appeals for dialogue have been ignored by the war minister, who, despite his three-months-late correspondence, states that he's unable to meet with us "due to prior engagements."
It is our intention, as the weather turns colder, to begin the physical process of transforming the site. Matthew Behrens is co-founder of Homes Not Bombs, which holds a vigil at Moss Park Armoury (Jarvis and Queen) Tuesdays from 7 to 8:30 pm.