To Subscribe to Cathy's Monthly Newsletter CLICK HERE
Newsletter Archives

#53 - February 2009 Newsletter

I've been a street nurse in Toronto for 20 years. I have received the Atkinson Economic Justice Award which permits me to pursue my passions for nursing and working on homelessness and housing issues. In this newsletter I hope to report on my activities, create a link to a broader group of individuals who care about these social issues and encourage critical debate.

pdf version of this issue

1. Toronto: A city of secrets – dirty little secrets.
2. NAMELESS-HOMELESS (a rant-in-progress) – by Don Weitz

1. Toronto: A city of secrets – dirty little secrets.

Faces on Places: A Grotesque Tour of Toronto by Terry Murray (Anansi Press, 2006) is one of my favourite books about this City. It’s a handsome pocketbook, a guide to Toronto’s old buildings and the stone menagerie that inhabit them. Did you know that gargoyles, griffins, winged lions, angels, gods and goddesses, kings and queens, deer and polar bears have been watching over this City for more than a century? 

In his forward to the book, Christopher Hume writes “Toronto is a city of secrets. It reveals itself slowly, bit by bit, detail by detail.”  I live and work in downtown Toronto so I almost always walk everywhere. I often choose my route in order to sneak a glance upwards at one of the historic stone legends atop a building. One of my favourites is the gargoyles atop the Jarvis Street Baptist Church.

Toronto is a city of secrets and these days, as I walk my City’s streets I am quietly noting another history.

I pass the parking garage on Adelaide where Garland S was found frozen to death.

I walk by the hotel on Bay Street, north of the Greyhound bus station, where Brian B died in his sleep, having rented a room for the night to take a break from the church basement program where he slept on the floor.

I seek out the steps of the synagogue in Kensington Market where Eddie F was found dead, only hours after he was discharged from Toronto Western Hospital.

I am thankful for the staff in St. Michael’s Hospital, known as ‘Toronto’s urban angel’ where James Kagoshima and hundreds of other homeless men and women have died, dying homeless due to cancers, heart disease, the cold, fire.

Today I sought out a specific location. It is the Bank of Montreal’s bank machine vestibule at King and Yonge where John Massie sought shelter, later dying from third-degree burns to 80% of his body. I met Bonnie Briggs, the founder of the Homeless Memorial Project. We went inside to get the manager’s card. I’ve decided I have to write him and Mr. William Downe, the President and Chief Executive Officer of BMO Financial Group. It’s not my first time at the site. I went there the morning after John Massie was burned and taken to St. Michael’s Hospital. There was no yellow police tape. No signs of an investigation. No CSI team. No signage from the bank acknowledging the tragedy. No flowers. Just cleaners, and an industrial fan to eliminate all the traces of smoke, the burned clothing and flesh.

Only the gargoyles, watching from above, would have seen what was to become another one of Toronto’s dirty little secrets, another homeless death. The coroner called it ‘misadventure.’  Shelters were full that night and Church basements overflowing. There was no 24 hour warming centre. City-funded outreach services were forbidden to provide survival supplies which would include hot food, sleeping bags and blankets. This, I find grotesque.

If you would like to help us honour and speak out against the deaths of homeless men, women and children please join Toronto Disaster Relief Committee at the Homeless Memorial, at 12 noon on the steps of the Church of the Holy Trinity.

Upcoming dates include February 10th, March 10th, April 14th. Join us for a free lunch inside the Church after the memorial and enjoy the Church’s history and social justice atmosphere. http://holytrinitytoronto.org/

With Toronto’s dirty little secrets in mind, I think you’ll appreciate why I have chosen to print Nameless-Homeless by Don Weitz.

2. NAMELESS-HOMELESS (a rant-in-progress)

This piece consists of revised excerpts from a much longer unpublished version which I originally wrote in 2000. I dedicate this rant to all homeless psychiatric survivors and other brothers and sisters brutalized and murdered by the police – including Edmond Wai Hong Yu whom the Toronto  police shot and killed on February 20, 1997; 17-year-old Jeffrey Reodica shot 3 times in the back by Toronto police on May 24, 2004;   18-year old- Alwy Al Khadil shot and killed by the police on October 31, 2007; 28-year-old Byron Debassige, an Aboriginal person shot and killed by the police on February 16, 2008; Robert Maurice whose frozen body was found “at the bottom of a Yonge Street stairwell” last February 2008; Paul Croutch, a homeless psychiatric survivor who was murdered – kicked to death – by Canadian Army reservists while sleeping on a park bench outside the Moss Park Armoury in Toronto on August 31, 2005.

Don Weitz

NAMELESS-HOMELESS

i saw the grate, I laid some flowers
at queen’s park today
a man called “Al”
died there alone one Thursday
“natural causes”
(another official lie)
says the coroner
his frozen body found
by a mindless MPP
near Harris’s window
“we know his name but
we can’t release the name…”
some nameless cop intones
on a soulless telephone
DEAF to cries of pain
DEAF to cries of injustice
DEAF to cries of death

I see you I hear you
on queen and spadina
i see you and I hear you
on queen and dufferin
i see you I hear you
on church and wellesley
I see you I hear you
on sherbourne and dundas
i see you I hear you
on king and university
I see you I hear you
on front and yonge
I see you I hear you
on parliament and gerrard
I see you I hear you
on bloor and spadina
I see you I hear you
on danforth and broadview
i see you I hear you
on bloor and bathurst
I see you I hear you
on yonge and eglinton
I see you I hear you
at queen’s park
i see you I hear you
in Hamilton
i see you I hear you in ottawa
i see you I hear you in sudbury
i see you I hear
in kenora
i see you i hear you
in thunder bay
i see you i hear you
in winnipeg
i see you I hear you
In saskatoon
I hear you I see you in
red deer
i see you i hear you
in churchill
i see you I hear you
in vancouver
i see you I hear you
i hear you I see you
in whitehorse
I see you I hear you
In nunavut

OH KANATA

I see you I hear you nameless-homeless
all over this fucking stolen land
where chretien and the canadian ss
solve homelessness with final solutions
riot squads
pepper spray
tasers
tear gas
charging horses
arrests
jails
criminal records for
DEMANDING OUR RIGHT TO HOUSING
criminal records for
STANDING UP FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
criminal records for
SHOUTING NO JUSTICE-NO PEACE
on parliament hill
justice-justice, where the hell are you?

I see you I hear you nameless-homeless
old men at 45 dying to live
dozing-wheezing-coughing up
tubercular blood
in howling windy tents
under the gardiner and lakeshore
mercifully found and fed by street patrol
often forced into wailing ambulances
taking fresh-frozen bodies in the night
to st.michael and st. joseph morgues
i see you i hear you nameless-homeless
your wasted lonely burned out lives
in hibernation
huddled headless in empty shattered bus shelters
where chinese cooking wine and drano
are breakfastlunchdinner
remember their names –
Eugene Upper
Irwin Anderson
Mirsalah Aldin-Kompani
and hundreds more who died
on toronto’s mean streets since ’97
after being treated-and-warehoused
and thousands of more casualties in
canada’s war
against the homeless
against the poor
against the natives
against african-canadians
against asian-canadians
against immigrants
against refugees
against the psychiatrized
against the disabled
against “life unworthy of life”

i see you i hear you
nameless-homeless
dying in dirty lice-filled-overcrowded hostels
where you’re packed like sardines
fed TB, fear and violence
for breakfastlunchdinner
while fantino’s swat team
kicks out OCAP protesters in doctor’s hospital in ’99
for daring to occupy a vacant room for you
while some of you are barred
from seaton house and street city
before dying frozen again on the street
“for your own good”

OH KANATA

I see you I hear you
nameless-homeless
in bullet-holed buses
in sardine-packed stinking shelters
in violent seaton house
in overcrowded fort york
where weapons and cold killer-drills
take priority over homeless beds and first aid
with no hope of welfare and healthcare
euphemisms for couldn’t-care-less

i smell your despair
i see landlord-developer violence
in your eviction
in your eyes
i see police violence
at queen’s park barricades
where OPP robocops and security goons
obstruct and harass us
with “trespass”/”mischief”/”unlawful assembly”
bullshit charges for occupying
your land and my land
I taste guard violence
in cold food thrown at you
in jail bullpens
(feel like throwing up)
i see developer violence
on our streets
in heated buildings vacant for years

I see you I hear you
dying frozen on another iron grate or park bench
dying in a parkdale boarding house
where “proper ventilation” is a luxury item
during another toronto heatwave

OH KANATA

don’t wait for another homeless death
(over 400 since 2002 in toronto)
don’t wait for another homeless inquest
(another official sham and shame)
don’t wait for another whitewash and coverup
(remember Zdravko Pukec pepper-sprayed to death in whitby psychiatric in 93)  
by racist cops
(remember unarmed Dudley George shot-to-death on native land by the OPP in ’95 )

we’re going in the street
marching proud-singing loud
marching proud-shouting loud
in harris’s face
in mcguinty’s face
in chretien’s face
in martin’s face
in harper's face
in the rcmp’s face
in canada’s face
in every goddamn face and place
we’re marching proud-singing loud
we’re shouting loud-marching proud
HOUSES-NOT SHELTERS
HOUSING IS A GODDAMN HUMAN RIGHT
WE’RE FIGHTING TO WIN

Don Weitz is an antipsychiatry and social justice activist, producer of “Antipsychiatry Radio” (CKLN) in Toronto, and co-founder of the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault (CAPA).

There are now 550 names on the Homeless Memorial in Toronto.

Cathy

Thanks to Anthony Rapoport for design, layout and web support, Bob Crocker for editing. Special thanks to Don Weitz for permission to print Nameless-Homeless (a rant-in-progress).

Photo credit: Cathy Crowe

To reply or comment please write me at ccrowe@sherbourne.on.ca