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.