Leaside, a neighbourhood in midtown Toronto is an area with some of the most expensive real estate in the city. Toronto Life ranked it 10th in their 2015 neighbourhood rankings, and the housing prices are only continuing to rise. So imagine the residents of the area’s shock when they thought a brand new homeless shelter was set to open in their neighbourhood.
On October 3rd, an empty storefront was boarded up and a sign that read “The Jefferson Homeless Shelter. Opening November 30, 2015” was posted along with a number people could call to voice their concerns. And people had concerns.
The shelter was actually an experiment by homelessness charity Raising The Roof to get people talking about the issue of homelessness, and find out what they really thought. Hidden cameras and a voicemail box captured exactly how Leaside residents felt, and it wasn’t positive.
One caller just straight up said homeless people are “drug addicts and drunks” and that they would “ruin the neighbourhood”. Another worried about the affect it would have on property values and even though she considered herself “a very tolerant person,” a homeless shelter was just “going over the edge.”
One of the most telling messages was a guy who said, “there must be somewhere else a homeless shelter could be opened up. Let’s move them somewhere down south, or up north.” So, basically anywhere but here. Homelessness is an issue all Torontonians are aware of, especially if they spend much time downtown, but a lot of people have been trained to ignore it.
After the overwhelmingly negative response to the possible shelter, the original sign was replaced with one that said “You told us you don’t want a shelter here. Neither do we. Support us in creating long-term solutions. Let’s end homelessness”.
On their website, the organization explained “We want to highlight that while we don’t want there to be a need to build shelters or initiate other short-term solutions, there continues to be a demand. Raising The Roof wants to bring attention to long-term solutions, and the right of every Canadian to have a safe place to call home”.
There has been a bit of backlash over the “hoax”, but Raising The Roof says their intention was not to “prank a neighbourhood, but rather to get Canadians to feel something, react, and think about an issue that is so often overlooked.” Carolann Barr, the executive director of Raising The Roof said they were hoping “to dispel some of the misconceptions or stereotypes that some of the general public might have about people who face homelessness.”
Leaside was meant to represent any neighbourhood across Canada where homelessness might not be as visible, but still exists. The people who had such a strong reaction to the shelter might be feeling a little foolish now, but they aren’t alone in their desire to brush homelessness under the rug. That’s exactly what Raising The Roof is trying to help put a stop to, while working to shift focus to more long-term solutions. Looks they’ve at least succeeded in getting the conversation started.