I was a street nurse tending the residents of the ill-fated Tent City, so the dismantling of the little enclave of street people living under the Bathurst bridge near Front by city workers last week awoke some poignant memories.
The important difference between these two stories, however, is that the Bathurst bridge folks weren't offered the rent supplement payments (topping up what social assistance will pay) that were provided to the former Tent City residents.
It's the reason why, 18 months later, the vast majority of Tent City residents continue to be housed, while many of the more recent evictees have "declined" housing they simply cannot afford.
Recently, a new book about the former community, Down To This: Squalor And Splendour In A Big-City Shantytown, has garnered much attention. Its author, Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, spent the better part of a year living at Tent City.
Although it appears the author developed affection for some of his neighbours, it's baffling to me why he considered it appropriate to disclose highly personal information of the type that people divulge only to those they trust.
The book, by turns voyeuristic and sensationalist, lurches from painful retellings of intoxicated confessions you wish you hadn't heard, and which should not have been retold, to apparent attempts to titillate by recounting chipper tales of women performing oral sex for money or drugs and seemingly cavalier mothers abandoning children in the blink of an eye.
The emotional cost of squandered confidences notwithstanding, Bishop-Stall has contravened the pre-eminent code of the street: thou shalt not rat.
Adding insult to injury is his astonishingly naive surprise at discovering that good-quality, safe housing would improve people's lives! Only someone who has taken housing for granted his whole privileged life could be so foolish.
Bishop-Stall presents spurious leaps of logic as startling revelations. For example, he says that many of the people who lived at Tent City were addicts, liars and criminals. He feels this proves that the former shantytown residents were victims of their own actions and not of politics.
Clearly, he's only talking about impoverished visibly homeless addicts, liars and criminals, because wealthy addicts, liars and criminals often do very well and are usually well-housed, -fed and -clothed.
The reality, of course, is that housing has made an enormous improvement in the lives of many former Tent City residents. For some, it's the first time in their entire lives they've had a safe place to live. Some have returned to work, others to school. Some have begun receiving help for long-untreated health problems.
The story of the Tent City housing pilot is nothing short of miraculous. Unfortunately, Bishop-Stall manages to overlook one of the great themes of the Tent City story - that housing activists managed to create out of havoc and distress one of the most important victories in the history of the Canadian anti-poverty movement.
When the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) brought prefabricated houses into Tent City, it forced politicians and others to look seriously at practical, innovative, quick housing solutions like those utilized in other parts of the world. When the TDRC brought in portable toilets, it forced Toronto public health to begin looking seriously at the obvious public health consequences of the lack of public toilets for homeless people.
And when Bishop-Stall pauses for a moment to ask himself why Tent City was allowed to exist as long as it was, the simple answer apparently eludes him: because activists and residents made Tent City a political issue and refused to back off.
In the end, it was the forceful campaign led by the TDRC and anti-poverty warriors like Beric German that resulted in a group of 100 men and women, many deeply injured by decades of trauma, abuse, loss and deprivation, finally obtaining the one basic thing they had lacked for so long - a safe place to live.
Like many of the political campaigns waged over the years, this one has undoubtedly saved lives. Unlike Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, most of the people who lived at Tent City were well on their way to an early death long before he chose to wander in.
It's unfortunate that homelessness is so often addressed by people who claim they want to avoid "being political," as if this sullies the story they want to tell. This Tent City book provides only the latest example. Its content could have served as material for a reality TV show on the FOX network.
The Tent City housing program was an astounding accomplishment, and the former Tent City residents have benefited significantly as a result of it. Ah, but none of this is the stuff of best-sellers.