Homeless shelter stunt charged with misrepresenting Leaside

Rather than being negative, would-be neighbours were left scratching their heads, according to local Facebook group

A provocative ad that appears to show Leasiders reacting in anger at the idea of a homeless shelter in their neighbourhood was misleading, if the online reaction is any indication.

Kate Whitehead, who runs the Preserve Leaside! Facebook group, received her first message regarding the construction hoarding at 1591 Bayview Ave. on Oct. 2, when a resident mentioned seeing a notice for the 62-bed, privately funded “Jefferson Homeless Shelter” while getting his morning coffee.

It left him and eight other Facebook commenters virtually scratching their heads — until a ninth commenter posted a link revealing it was a publicity stunt.

“Most peoples’ comments were — pretty reasonably — asking how they could safely get that many people into so small a place,” Whitehead says. “People just started to discuss the reasonable logistics of it all. So as far as I’m concerned, yay Leaside!”

The ad, a collaboration between advertising agency Leo Burnett and midtown-based charity Raising the Roof, released on Oct. 12, tells a different story.

The black and white footage, silent except for white noise, starts with a truck pulling up to the site and workers setting up the hoarding, including a prominent sign for the “Jefferson Homeless Shelter.” A phone rings. A series of angry-sounding messages combined with footage of curious residents plays, with a miniscule “We re-recorded and edited the messages to protect people’s privacy” appearing at the bottom of the screen.

“I don’t know what this is going to do to the real estate value,” a typical message says. “I’m a very tolerant person, but this just really is going over the edge.”

The “Jefferson Homeless Shelter” sign is then pulled away to reveal another: “You told us you don’t want a shelter here. Neither do we.”

“What would happen if … we were this passionate about ending homelessness?” the ad asks using white text. “Support us in creating long-term solutions for 250,000 homeless Canadians.”

In an email, Whitehead praised the ad’s “creativity and boldness,” but questioned its effectiveness.

“Do I think there are Leaside residents whose first thought was of their property value? Yes, I do. Do I think that’s all people thought about? No I don’t,” she wrote.

“I would like Raise The Roof to see our Facebook group where Leaside residents shared thoughts and discussed how a shelter could work in our community.”

Carolann Barr, Raising the Roof’s executive director, said the ad was meant to “spark a conversation,” making homelessness a topic of discussion in the final days of the federal election campaign.

“We wanted to look at a community where you might not see a shelter coming,” she said. “It had nothing to do with Bayview Avenue specifically … that’s where we found a location where we could put the sign up on a storefront.”

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Posted: Oct 13 2015 11:09 am
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto