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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: “On the road to a roof over his head” (Apr. 2021)

May 12th, 2021 · No Comments

Things are looking up for Jeff Reid, who has finally found a home

Jeff Reid can now afford the market rent at his new home, thanks to a provincial subsidy called the Toronto Transitional Housing Allowance Program: Homeless Stream. In his letter to the Gleaner, he shares a few suggestions for making the shelter system more welcoming to Toronto’s homeless population. NICOLE STOFFMAN/GLEANER NEWS

Hi! It’s me, the guy on page 7 of the [March edition] of the Gleaner! I have received so many comments about the article, it’s unbelievable. Instead of walking by me like I don’t exist, more people are treating me like I’m actually real or something! So happy!

A little update: I’ve been accepted into housing, so my last days on the streets will be the first week of May. I’m looking forward to getting cleaned up, getting a new wardrobe, taking a week’s worth of showers, sleeping for four straight days, and being fresh as a daisy once again.

A note to the City of Toronto’s Shelter Support and Housing Administration (SSHA): invest in cameras. Desperate people steal from other shelter residents to get money for their fix. That’s a fact.

Secondly, the lockers shelters provide so guests can keep their valuables safe don’t do much when people pick or break the lock. Invest in cameras for those too. For lockers that staff must open, I suggest the SSHA make new staff wait before they’re permitted to open them. Let them get to know the residents before they go unlocking Greg’s locker for Terry because Terry said he was Greg. It happens all too often.

By and large, shelter staff are good-hearted people who want to see positive change for their clients’ lives. They are railroaded with the care of various numbers of homeless people in close quarters under a system that is overlooked or ignored as ‘good enough,’ and I send my respect to every one of them. 

The solution, then, would be to change the clientele. How do we do that? I suggest shelters adopt zero tolerance drug and alcohol policies. Some of the best shelters I’ve been to were in Newmarket, Moncton, and Halifax, to name but a few, where if you came back intoxicated, you slept it off outside. There were still thieves but the junkies couldn’t come in. Nowadays it seems like shelters are introducing harm reduction into everything, and it’s doing nothing to solve the problem of shelter crime.

In the current system, it’s up to the resident to secure their own belongings. You may think this is fair, I did too. Two winters ago, when it was too cold outside for my dog, I stayed at the winter respite at the Queen Elizabeth Building at Exhibition Place. The large warehouse-style building had over 200 residents crammed together in one very large room. There were five security guards for the entire place, or one guard for every 40 people. This was anything but safe.

While I was there for a grand total of two days, I witnessed a man steal another man’s cell phone. When the victim went to retrieve his property, the thief put up a fight. Security mistook the victim as the aggressor, put him down and brought him to the back for the police to arrest. When the thief asked for “his phone” back, security gave him the victim’s phone and no more was made of the actual crime that I witnessed. The poor guy lost his phone, his dog got picked up by animal services, and he most likely had to spend time in jail for failing to protect his property. I attempted to clear things up but was told to “stay out of it.” Is this what passes for justice?

I can’t blame the security in this instance. I have a security background, I’ve worked the industry, and five guards for over 200 people is completely unacceptable. No private company would ever allow such a tiny detail to guard a mall or even a larger store, but when it’s a public respite for homeless people, a lower standard is applied, and this happens. No one should be expected to look after more than ten people at the best of times. Throw in drugs and desperation and the security detail is so far stretched that their effectiveness is negligible.

I wish I could say this is an example of the worst that happens and it’s a rare occurrence, but it’s not. Most times I went out for a smoke there were residents either fuming or in tears over theft, violence, threats, or abuse of some other sort. 

If you’re a heavy sleeper, like me, you risk being stolen from in your sleep. I once had a mattress stolen out from under me. These seem to be things you just have to accept as a fact of life to successfully stay at shelters.

So, I guess I should take this time to reflect on my time out here. I’m not going to lie, I loved it. From the friendly community to the free food at the end of the night, the Annex has been extremely good to me and I am eternally grateful for the tolerance and hospitality of the neighbourhood. The Annex is always my recommendation to visit if and when you hit Toronto because it really feels like home; and y’know? It really does.

Sincerely,  Jeff Reid

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Tags: Annex · Letters · Opinion