Sunday, August 14, 2016

Street Food & Street People

I have lived in Toronto all of my life but I have been noticing a drastic change over the past 5 years in so many ways. I started working a temporary contract in April and in July the office moved to Yonge and Dundas.  Right smack in the Yonge and Crazy area or centre of the Universe in Toronto if you don't know. This area is such a contrast of humanity and life.  There are huge retailers and brands all around and not just in the Eaton Centre but up and down Yonge Street and there are always cultural events and brand activations and entertainment happening at Yonge and Dundas Square.  At the same time there are street people dotted every 10 feet or so just sitting on the ground asking for money from people passing by.  

The thing that I have noticed is that there is an increase of these "Street People" I call them street people because I can't assume that they are homeless because who knows what their story is.  But there are a lot more with varying degrees of impairment.  I would say that the majority are able bodied but there are some with visible signs of mental illness and a few with physical disabilities but I would say a lot of them seem to be physically ok.  They all have a story but some seem to me in my cynical brain to be fake stories.  Why do I say that?  Well because I know a guy who is on disability who is physically able but has as he calls it "undiagnosed" disability.  When pressed he said he had dizzy spells.  He is socially challenged or what I think may be a mild case of Asbergers but he spends his time volunteering but his brother is also on disability but doesn't really have a disability other than the fact that he is a substance abuser.  I was told that he collects his disability cheques and then spends it on drugs and alcohol and when the money runs out his band of buddies heads downtown to pan handle.  The guy I know lives with this guy and his pan handling buddies crash at their Etobicoke apartment regularly. I always wonder who are legitimately in need and who is just pulling a scam.  I have gotten to the point that there are so many people around town that you just walk by and don't pay attention anymore.

Last week there was an altercation on Dundas just west of Yonge with a guy in a suit with a knife or something and another guy who appeared to be a homeless person and the guy in the suit lunged at Police when they tried to resolve the problem.  I don't really know the whole story but the end result was that the guy in the suit was shot by Police and the street was closed off for investigation for half the day.

 A couple of weeks ago there was a fight in a known area where homeless people gather in the St. Lawrence Market area and one guy fell and hit his head and died.

In the past couple of weeks I have seen people in wheelchairs, a young girl, pregnant girls, guys with dogs, older people and a whole bunch of young people.

I don't understand why people would choose to sit on a scorching hot sidewalk in the middle of a heatwave and beg for money.  People have been camping out next to garbage cans on Dundas and on Yonge Street.  We have had 30 days over 30 degrees this month too, so it's been extremely HOT.  I have been precariously employed for the past 5 years but I would never consider doing this so I am not sure why so many think this is a solution.  I know that government assistance doesn't really work but there must be a better way to solve this problem.

At the same time as some of these guys are sleeping on the sidewalks I was given some of these treats for FREE while walking around the area.  I got Hummus, chip and the Gummies while walking by Ryerson.  I got Brookside bars at a brand activation at Yonge Dundas Square and a Matilda fan while walking down Yonge Street.  I also got a sample of ice cream from a New Ice cream place because they were late opening.  I got all of these free things within a couple of weeks.


 There really is no shortage of free food in Toronto if you are out and about.  Lot's of brands hand out samples around the city and at food events.  While I was getting these things all of the "street people" were sitting or sleeping on the sidewalks just a block away.

So what exactly is the problem?  They hold up signs that say they are Hungry.  Is that the problem?  Like I said there is plenty of "Street Food" in the city.  Mostly in the summer but there are lot's of times that brands do activations in high traffic areas year round.  I have told the story before where I tried to help a guy saying he needed money for food and tried to give him a $10 cafe gift card and he just blew me off and only kept it after another passerby told him to.

I really thing the problem is JOBS and HOUSING.  If you aren't a professional most jobs don't pay enough to support living in decent housing in the city.  If rent starts at $1000 a month for a bachelor apartment and you are working a minimum wage job you just have no money for anything else.

You are supposed to spend 25% of your wage on housing but I can tell you that 75% of my current wage is going to my housing and I am not living in a fancy house.  I live in a one bedroom apartment in an old building and not even in the central downtown area.  I have had to give up my car and haven't been able to do a lot of the things I used to be able to do.

It's getting tougher and tougher to get by living in a big city.  The second part is the Job situation.  In Toronto more full time jobs have been lost over the past year than it has in the past 30 years.  I haven't had a permanent job in years and most jobs that used to be permanent are now contract jobs so that employers don't have the extra cost of benefits.  You have no guarantees on steady employment anymore so it's really tough to be able to plan a budget or to be able to pay your bills consistently.

I saw these 2 guys in this tree covered laneway behind the Eaton Centre.  They were at least in a shaded area but this is no way to live.  It's bad for these people and it's bad for the City of Toronto.  In a city as developed as ours this problem seems to be getting bigger and bigger.  I do not want to see our city like the cities in the U.S. where there are huge homeless areas where there are high crime rates.

What can we do to solve this problem?  Some of these people just need to learn that they are in control of their life and this street living isn't the solution, while others need help with drug and alcohol addiction and others need help with affordable housing and others need a decent job.

If you see someone that clearly needs help you can call *311 and they can send someone out to assist them but for how long?   I called last winter when a guy was consistently sleeping on Richmond Street during sub zero temperatures.   He was gone for a few days but back again a week later.  For some this is their choice.  They prefer to be on the streets than in shelters.  I don't think shelters are the answer but I think a new version of affordable housing is.

I also don't think giving a guy a loonie on the street is going to solve his problems.
Actor Colin Farrell tried to help a guy and gave him money and it didn't stick but when he took him to an outdoor store and got him hooked up and then paid his rent for a year I think it finally helped the guy get back on his feet.  Short term is not the answer a long term solution is but how do we collectively make it happen?  Do our votes for politicians make the difference?  or is there another solution?

Some of the things other countries have done:

1. Small houses where homeless people can sleep, shower and eat for a small fee.
2. Fridges outside of restaurants where homeless people can get the unsold food from the restaurants.
3. Mobile trucks with showers that homeless people can use to take a shower
4. Dress for Success and other charities provide clothing for people that need the proper attire for interviews.
5.  There are a number of organizations that hand out backpacks with basic toiletries and things like socks.
6.  Second Harvest collects leftover foods from restaurants and has events to raise money for programs year round.
7.  The Stop/Food Share has kitchen training programs for people in need.
8.  Habitat for Humanity provides housing to people that put in volunteer sweat equity hours.
9.  If you are hungry you can volunteer at a food festival.  They will most likely feed you for your time.
10.  A library card will give you a place that is air conditioned and the use of a computer and you can get online training for free.  There are also other job finding events at the library.

There are a lot of agencies around cities that provide some help but I think there needs to be a way for these people to find out about and get to these programs.

Everyone is a "SITUATION" away from being homeless these days so we need to find a way to make a change.

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