A tumultuous recent meeting of 150 residents elected a new steering committee for the Kensington Market Action Committee (KMAC) amid charges that the election signals creeping gentrification.
Supporters of the old committee say those elected are more representative of landowners than of the low-income residents and homeless who consider the neighbourhood a sanctuary.
"Kensington Market is where the most marginalized people have a real community," says Oriel Varga, a teacher at the Free University of Toronto. "They stacked the meeting with landowners and took over."
KMAC began in 1997 as a community initiative funded by Human Resources Development Canada to research waste management, provide housing and food to the homeless and represent the community to outside institutions.
But during the scandal over the HRDC's mismanagement of a billion dollars, KMAC's federal money dried up and the organization had to fund itself.
The present committee says the homeless should not take priority over homeowners, and that the area needs more security in general.
"The homeless have to have regard for the residents," says Cristina Enrietti, a new KMAC committee member who has lived in the area for 22 years.
One of the possible casualties of the new regime may be the drop-in centre proposed by St. Stephen's Community House and favoured by the old committee and Councillor Olivia Chow.
Brendan Carron, a new steering committee member and an opponent of the project, says the Market should be friendly toward its merchants and doesn't have room for the large influx of homeless that would result from the centre.
"We are not against those in poverty. Anyone who has worked in Kensington Market understands poverty," he says. "All we are saying is that the shelter does not belong on Augusta, because shoppers do not need their children to see 300 broken people a day."
St. Stephen's bought property at 260 Augusta to house a drop-in centre for the homeless, homeless youth, ESL classes and 13 units of supported housing.
"We always work in consultation with the community, including politicians. We have very positive responses from Councillor Chow's office," says Simon Cheng, assistant executive director of St. Stephen's.
Cheng says the new KMAC steering committee means there will have to be renewed discussions.
"Olivia is committed to the community and is urging St. Stephen's to do outreach work in the community," says Bruce Scott, Chow's constituency assistant, admitting that there are concerns about the proposed drop-in centre.
"Hopefully, the new steering committee will work on a diversity of issues," he says.
But David Melville, a former committee member who was ousted, says the situation is "scary," and adds that he feels the aggression expressed at the meeting indicates that the poor and homeless may no longer have a place in the Market.
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