Dundas Street: The Long Winding Road

Dundas Street has been referred to as one of Toronto arterial streets. It currently is one of the few streets within the city that links both the east and west ends of the city to the downtown core. Continue reading

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Yonge Street Pedestrian Mall, 1972

The pedestrian mall was tried out for a few weeks during the summer in 1971 and 1972 in an attempt to revitalise the area. It was successful but the city was unable to attain provincial support to make the project permanent.

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Dancing in Toronto

(Toronto, 1912)

(Toronto, 1950s)

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From Skid Row to Homelessness

Our class met with Bill Bosworth, now a Research Coordinator on housing issues, but in the early 1970s working with homeless men at shelters in Toronto.

As a result of Mr. Bosworth’s involvement with this group of individuals, he noticed that during this specific era, these men were considered to be a part of Skid Row, rather than being classified as homeless individuals. This is so because the concept of homelessness was not used until later years.  In 1987 the United Nations declared the International Year of Shelter for the homeless and the lack of affordable housing became publically recognized as causing homelessness.

Furthermore he said, the public and service agencies generally thought homeless men were all alcoholics, and carried the label “drunks.” However, he was quite convinced that a large percentage of the homeless men present were not “drunks.”

As a result of this, Mr. Bosworth asked the front-desk staff at the hostel to record whether individuals coming through the doors were too drunk to relate to, or had something to drink but could relate, or had nothing to drink at all.  Of the 120 individuals each night, a maximum of 38 had had something to drink and only 3 men were too drunk to relate to.

Through this analysis, one is able to recognize that through the different aspects of stigmatization and labeling the overall concept of homelessness was being shaped.  Many of the public and social service agencies have changed their negative perceptions of the homeless population, which resulted in housing programs targeted at the homeless population rather than blaming them for being homeless.

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The Yonge Street Mission

 With the emergence of the Yonge Street Mission in 1896, it has been reaching out to meet the needs of people living in poverty in Toronto.

  • 1897- 1904: The Mission is relocated to rented premises at Yonge and Shuter Streets.
  • 1961: An office building on Victoria Street, behind the Mission, is purchased to serve as the first Youth Center- Yonge Street Mission Youth Center opens.
  • 1962: Yonge Street Youth Center opens.
  • 1966: YSM Youth Center is expropriated by Ryerson Polytechnic Institute (now Ryerson University)
  • 1996 October: Yonge Street Mission celebrates its 100th anniversary helping the poor in downtown Toronto.

– As Sourced by the Yonge Street Mission website: http://www.ysm.ca/


Yonge Street Mission lineup (Google Images)

The Yonge Street Mission (YSM) conducted interviews with agencies serving youth and street involved youth from all backgrounds, in all parts of the city. They found that:

  • Youth Are predominantly driven to the street, not drawn there.
  • Over past two decades many changes have come to Toronto’s inner city, such as new development throughout downtown, demographic changes in the urban centre and civic projects, such as the Yonge-Dundas Square. These changes have altered the face of Toronto’s downtown and have affected the people living there.
  • To this, homeless and street- involved youth have been highly affected.
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The Safe Streets Act (Ontario, 1999)

The Safe Streets Act (SSA) 1999 is a law in the province of Ontario, Canada. The SSA prohibits aggressive solicitation of persons in certain public places and the disposal of dangerous things in certain public places. The act was created in response to what was seen as the growing problem of squeegee ids on the streets. According to Micheal Vonn, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association policy director, “The real aim of the legislation is to sweet the streets of people who produce feelings of discomfort in seeing or meeting in public places. The mere threat of invoking the Safe Streets Act against an individual will presumably “move them along” to the extent that is could effectively create ‘no-go’ zones in certain parts of the city. It is well to remember that this legislation’s prime proponent is the business lobby.”

– British Columbia Civil Liberties Association
as appeared in the Vancouver Sun, October 20 2004

New Catholic Times Mar 11, 2001

Mary Birdsell:

“The federal government, they’re in charge of the criminal law, and the provincial governments gets to be in charge of the other stuff: property and civil rights. Our argument is you’re using the powers of the province to monitor the behaviour of a particular group of people, and that’s criminal law.

The way I see it,” says his companion, “the law contradicts itself all the time. What we’re saying about this law is that it totally targets a group of people who are already having a rough time to begin with.” – Canadian Press Aug 23, 2007

It is blatantly clear that this law serves to promote the well being of those ‘in charge,’ while discriminating against certain types of people, in this case, those living in poverty. The main problem with the act is that it is very subjective; it leaves it up to the police to decide whether to charge or not and thus it becomes completely arbitrary and can be unjust at times. Many homeless people have fallen victim to this form of police cruelty.

Liberals Continue Harris’ Attack on the Poor (February 26, 2006)

According to the Ontario Coalition against Poverty, “The liberals defend indefensible and ‘offensive’ Safe Streets Act, which is a social cleansing bill passed by Harris’ Tories, which attacks poor people. It gives the police another tool to harass and arrest homeless people, panhandlers and squeegee workers. Poverty is not a crime and the poor should not be criminalized”

-OCAP Press Advisory

From the Street into Homes

 The Council of the City of Toronto passed plan to deal with the city’s homelessness problem calling it From the Street into Homes. The plan was excellent in its understanding of reducing homelessness in Toronto, however, contained troubling provisions which threatened the ability of the homeless in Toronto to use the city’s public spaces. It determined that the root causes of homelessness in Toronto was a result of the governments stringent economic policies; these policies, designs and exclusionary social attitudes are making public unfriendly to the homeless population.

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Case 1: Nathan Phillips Square

Nathan Phillips Square at New City Hall

According to the survey conducted by the Yonge-Street Mission, youth who used downtown services felt there were changes happening on Yonge Street. They felt as though Yonge Street had become ‘cleaner’ and more gentrified, with oncoming pressure from the police. This creates the location on Yonge Street as less compelling and idealized for the homeless population. The decision to move locations of stay can be determined by external forces such as police pressure, or being banned from a particular location, as can be seen in the movement of the banning of Nathan Phillips Square.

On February 1, 2005, Toronto City Council voted on a proposal to ban homeless people from sleeping in Nathan Phillips Square. People sleep at City Hall because the shelters are full and conditions in many of them are dreadful. By removing the homeless from the Square, the politicians hope to remove a major political embarrassment from under their noses. They also sent a message to every cop, City official, and narrow-minded vigilante in Toronto that it is open season on the homeless.

– As sourced by the Ontario Coalition against Poverty

From this brief article, one is able to recognize that as a result of banning the homeless population from this particular location, it functions to serve the wants of the politicians rather than the needs of the homeless. Once again, those in higher authoritative positions can be seen to exert their power over those whom are in the most vulnerable state. As shelters are full and conditions are unappealing, those less fortunate have no other choice than to seek refuge in the City Hall vicinity and other public spaces.


Nathan Phillips Square (courtesy of Google Images)

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