Demonstrations over temporary homeless housing in the Yonge-Eglinton area have shown the midtown community split several ways.
About 100 midtown residents protested against the shelters before Northern Secondary School on Saturday starting at about 10 a.m., before they were confronted by an almost equal-sized group supporting the shelters shouting at them from across Mt. Pleasant Road.
But even the signs in the protest group carried diverse messages, including “Protect Our Children,” “Protect Our Most Vulnerable, including the Homeless,” “Why Are the Criminals Roaming My Streets?” and “Shelters Yes, Crime No.”
At one point they took up the chant “No needles, no feces!” in reference to claims the shelters’ clients were leaving drug paraphernalia in the area and causing health issues.
Statements from participants in the protest group ranged from demanding the shelters be shut down to supporting the homeless shelters while seeking more protection for local residents.
The counter-protest group carried signs like “Toronto for All,” “Homelessness Is Not a Crime,” and “Social Housing Now.”
The protest came after a rash of incidents at the interim housing site at 55–65 Broadway Avenue. Over the past two weeks a staff member has been knifed at the centre, a fire has broken out on the first floor and a resident has been arrested on gun charges.
Local residents and businesses have also charged crime has increased in the area since the Broadway facility and a nearly shelter in the former Roehampton Hotel on Mt. Pleasant have opened.
The city says clients at the Broadway shelter are to be moved to a permanent home or a temporary site in another neighbourhood at the end of August.
Councillor not consulted
Some protesters carried signs criticizing local councillor Josh Matlow: “Defund Matlow” and “Josh Resign.”
Matlow has said he was never consulted about the opening of the shelters in his ward, and the decision was made by city staff, rather than by council.
But he claimed anti-shelter rhetoric does not reflect the community. “Our support for our city’s most vulnerable is unwavering,” he said on Twitter.
On Saturday the councillor organized a drive to donate men’s and women’s clothes to the Roehampton Residence.
Thanks to everyone who donated to the Roehampton Residence yesterday! As we actively resolve challenges together, they’re especially in need of underwear and socks, if you’re able to drop some by. Our community is united in our support and compassion for our city’s homeless. pic.twitter.com/Nc72oZ8ZNe
— Josh Matlow (@JoshMatlow) August 16, 2020
At Matlow’s request the city is hosting a community meeting on Aug. 19 to discuss the shelters and steps taken to protect the safety of both shelter clients and local residents.
Mayor John Tory said he visited the area for two hours on Wednesday and listened to many local resident and business owners, as well as with residents of the shelter and professionals who were there to help them.
“I can confirm that there are professionals, including doctors and nurses, at the Roehampton site to provide mental health assistance and addiction counselling to people who have some of those traumatic issues in their lives,” Tory said in a Twitter statement Saturday.
The city is ramping up assistance on site, security, and the number of police patrols, he said.
City “bungled,” MP says
Also on Twitter, Don Valley West MP Rob Oliphant said the city did not go about setting up the shelters with the proper consultation or adequate security measures. But he did not support the protest.
“The city bungled this, but demonstrations, especially during a pandemic, are not the best way to change public policy,” he said.
Let me be clear: supporting vulnerable people is always important. My life & work have been dedicated to that. Attacks on shelter residents or any homeless person are wrong. But shelters without appropriate resources are also wrong. Let’s build communities safely and carefully.
— Rob Oliphant (@Rob_Oliphant) August 16, 2020