Intelligarde Security’s Mission: Arrest Homeless, Panhandlers, Referred to as Dirty Bums

A Chinese Gentleman Panhandling on Spadina

A Chinese Gentleman Panhandling on Spadina

Sunmedia, Toronto – Aug.21, 2008 Toronto Sun, by Ian Robertson, Headline: Dirty bum gets tossed

“A panhandler who refused to leave private property after messing his shorts was among 11 rousted at the start of a second week of controversial Chinatown security patrols. The beggar, who refused to stop appealing to passersby for money near Spadina Ave. after he “soiled his silks,” was arrested by Intelligarde Security officers Tuesday, firm founder Ross McLeod said…

Toronto Police Association president Dave Wilson is quoted as saying [private guards] lack the training, dedication and experience of cops. Unlike police, an unarmed uniformed guard can incite people to fight “and we don’t want to be showing up at incidents and having to worry about security guards as well.”… [end of excerpt ]

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Here at Project417, I have almost ten years of experience doing outreach to the homeless on the Spadina Chinatown streets. The accompanying photo was taken by me on Spadina, just south of Kensington Market, to illustrate the growing number of elderly Chinese-Canadians who have been forced by community circumstances to resort to panhandling. Of course homelessness knows no race and the homeless panhandlers in Chinatown come from all communties right across the country, but there are a growing number of seniors in Chinatown who appear to have no visible means of support and have taken to the streets.

The threat to public safety through the presence of hired private security firms is real. As well as the assault on human rights, not just of the homeless, but the public who are being confronted and intimidated by what amounts to uniformed thugs on public city sidewalks. Chinatown BIA President, Stephen Chan claims the homeless are blocking doors, aggressively panhandling passers by and even says they are responsible for thefts from cars. The BIA is blind to the real crime problems in their own community and are misguided in targetting the homeless – my next post will outline alarming crime trends in the Spadina Chinatown as well as first hand encounters with Intelligarde bullies.

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Nelson Mandela’s 90th Birthday – Calls for Rich to Help Poor

Mandela Turns 90

Mandela Turns 90

Nelson Mandela, the man who ended apartheid in South Africa, marked his 90th birthday, calling for the rich to do more for the poor. “If you are poor, you are not likely to live long,” he said at his house in the Eastern Cape. He said:”There are many rich people… who can share with those not so fortunate who have not been able to conquer poverty”.

I’m so thankful for Mr. Mandela. I grew up from a young child all the while Mr. Mandela was imprisoned for his opposition to apartheid in South Africa. When he was released from prison, became South Africa’s first black President and put an end to the racist apartheid policy, the world became a better place. It gave me hope, that one person can rise above oppression and overcome injustice if they just hold on to their dreams. Ending apartheid was not just a South African phenomenon – it changed the world by shining light on the darkness that is racism and promoting peaceful multicultural co-existence.

Nelson Mandela, showed today, even on his 90th birthday, that his fight for justice is not over. Once again, even though he spoke of conditions in South Africa, the principal is universal throughout the world: the rich must do more to help the poor. This applies not only to individuals, but also to countries – countries like Canada who have been blessed with an abundance of resources and wealth. Just as Mr. Mandela says of his own country, so Canada has riches we should “share with those not so fortunate to conquer poverty.”

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Toronto Streets to Homes Program Just U.S. Homeless Czar’s Mistake

Gentrification of Jarvis & Shuter

Gentrification of Jarvis & Shuter

From Street Nurse Activist Cathy Crowe Newsletter #48 Summer 2008 – by Beric German:

Philip Mangano, often referred to as Bush’s homelessness czar, promotes a “housing first” policy. The Bush administration, and the Harper government, are concentrating on “street homelessness” (those people visibly living on the street), instead of funding sustainable affordable housing programs.”

The program is really about hiding the homeless! Many of my volunteers on the Project417 sandwich runs already have heard me, and our friends on the streets, tell of the appalling condition of the housing offered to the street homeless through the Streets to Homes programs: Small, cramped rooms and tiny basement apartments, crumbling walls and ceilings, old lead paint, asbestos insulation, parasites like bed bugs and lice, broken plumbing, and little choice in the tenants with whom you have to share. I wish there were statistics on how many Streets to Homes rooms were located in known crack houses.

Streets to Homes has had some success, but it is only dumb luck and the perseverance of the homeless themselves in choosing acceptable accomodation. By far the majority of “homes” offered are sub-standard and actually lead to tenants turning to homelessness on the streets again in a short time. Their choice is really a lack of choice. Tell our governemnt, at all levels that homelessness is not to be solved by hiding the problem, but by providing safe, accessible, affordable hosuing where banyone would choose to live with pride and dignity.

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Time to Volunteer – Out of the Cold

Knox Out of the Cold

Autumn is here again, although you wouldn’t know from the sunny, balmy weather we’ve been having. This is definitely a bonus for the homeless street population here in Toronto. Here at Project417 we are not looking forward to the wet, cold and blustery weather that is bound to be coming soon. It makes life difficult for the street homeless we work with – stuck outside all day, rain drizzling down, soaking their sleeping bags and blankets, making their outdoor beds sodden and chilled, bringing morning dews and soon frost. Quite a few of the homeless and street involved youth that we know are making a living on the streets busking, a time honored musical tradition and one that offers self-esteem and an escape from the hazards of panhandling or squeegee. With the advent of cold weather, most busking is severely limited, especially for guitar players or other instruments affected by the cold or requiring warm hands.

There is a great fall and winter program to look forward to though: The Knox Out of the Cold Dinner and Foodbank for Street Youth starts up again every Tuesday from November 6th, 2007. Now in its 11th year, the Knox Out of the Cold is a favorite amongst the street youth who attend. Last year we averaged over seventy youth, roughly between the ages of 16 to 25, serving them hot, nutritious homemade dinners and offering access to a foodbank generously stocked with fresh food, such as milk and cheese, many frozen foods and dinners, as well as some fresh produce from Second Harvest and a good selection of standard foodbank non-persihables.

This independant Out of the Cold program (it’s supported entirely by Knox Presbyterian Church, Toronto) was started more than ten years ago as a cooperative partnership between First Nations Gospel Church and a caring group of Knox members who wanted to reach the growing numbers of homeless street youth ( In Toronto, a good estimate suggests there are at least 10,000 different youth who are homeless at one point on any given year – and anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 on a given night. ;Source – cbc.ca) The First Nations Gospel Church which evolved into our organization – Project417 – Ekklesia Inner City Ministries – was founded by Joe Elkerton, our current Executive Director. It has always been at the forefront of outreach to the most as risk portion of the homeless – those who are absolutely without shelter, sleeping on the streets. Back in the 90’s, Rev.Elkerton and his teams of volunteers, who visited the streets delivering bag lunches on sandwich runs, noticed that many homeless street youth were not visiting the various overnight emergency shelters which serve the general homeless population. They were feeling out of place and harassed by the older, adult population, (most are escaping some form of abuse at the hands of adults) and couldn’t find referral or counselling programs which dealth with the issues unique to youth. So, seeking to meet their needs, and with the blessing of the Knox Session, the Knox Out of the Cold was implemented. Joe Elkerton and his team provided the expertise in running a shelter and serving the homeless and Knox provided an awesome facility and ready group of volunteers and administrators.

Knox Out of the Cold for Street Youth has gone through many changes over the last decade, continuously adapting to the changing needs of homeless and at risk street youth. At the beginning, we followed the Out of the Cold model first championed by Sister Susan and the founders of Out of the Cold. In addition to providing hot meals, the church gymnasium became an overnight shelter with dozens of youth finding a warm place to sleep and a hot breakfast in the morning. Beginning in 2006, the overnight portion of the program was cancelled, due in part to the large number of youth who had found housing through the efforts of the Streets to Homes initiative and caring counsellors from NaMeRes (Native Men’s Residence). For several years the program ran two nights a week thanks to the volunteer efforts of the Royal Bank of Canada RBC, who ran the program Wednesday nights as well as the churches’ own Tuesdays.

The program this year guarantees to continue it’s hit status with the youth who attend. Doors open at 6:30 pm and a home cooked meal is usually served by 7 pm. Teams of volunteers takes turns commandeering the well equipped church kitchen and producing great meals – and not just soup kitchen staples like spaghetti or stew. Menus often include Roast Beef and all the trimmings, or adventurous nights like homemade pizza. All meals come with a fresh salad, vegetables, potatoes or pasta and bread. There is fruit juice and chocolate milk on every table and most meals include a vegetarian alternative. There are also choice os yummy desserts and trays of cookies and munchies homemade by the “church ladies”. The meals are served to the youth at table by volunteers – we don’t make them line up meal program style like some shelters – and once they are all served the volunteers are encouraged to join them at the tables, which can make for some interesting discussion topics.

Early on in the program’s history, Knox Church members assumed all responsibility for the program’s operation under the guidance of Vicki and Bill Wood. Project417 – Ekklesia stays on just to volunteer, lend a hand with coordination and enjoy the community. Vicki and Bill and countless other volunteers over the years have added programs which make the Knox Out of the Cold unique. The church has a bowling alley – 3 lanes! – in the basement and volunteers are always needed to help set the pins and return balls. Years ago Bill started “Hair Nite”, and dyes the youth’s hair every technicolor choice imaginable. Along with volunteer barbers and hairdressers, this is one activity the youth line up for. Starting as a test in the summer of 2005, the Knox Foodbank for Street Youth now runs every Tuesday in conjunction with the Out of the Cold. A community public health nurse is on premises all evening. There are often crafts and there’s a table with video games on an aging Nintendo. (Wii or xBox donations anyone?)

Every other week Bill Wood and a group of helpers host an open mic night in the gym for the youth to entertain us all with their amazing musical talent. Bill, a veteran musician who just released his latest CD “Take It” always performs his latest tunes and, in human jukebox style, responds to almost any request. We’re constantly surprised by the awesome talent of the youth, especially Meg, Lucian Thomas or Spewkie and friends of the Freckled Arm and the Kruntry Revolution. It’s a warm haven for our friends like Terry, Petboy and Gomer once busking season is over.

So come on out and join the volunteers! Visit the Knox Presbyterian website at knoxtoronto.org for contact info or visit the volunteer pages of Project417.com

Entrance Out of the Cold at Knox Spadina

Squeegee Attack: Follow-up

I spoke to Joe Elkerton, the Director of Project417 – Ekklesia Inner City Ministries ( project417.com ), regarding the recent assault by a homeless squeegee person. According to Rev. Elkerton, the squeegee person in question was known to police and has a history of mental illness. These are the most vulnerable on our streets – and we need to take that reality into consideration when dealing with them. Ever since the de-institutionalization of mental health treatment, there has been a huge and widening chasm between the treatment of the average person and at risk people like the homeless, especially those with concurrent disorders, such as drug addiction and mental illnesses. With respect to physical health, it has long been known that the homeless are under served. According to a St. Michael’s Hospital survey, male homeless street youth have a mortality rate seven times higher than the general population, while homeless adult men are four times more likely to die than the average rate.

From a report published on Canadianchristianity.com “There are “hundreds of thousands of people” with mental illness who are “doing just fine,” said Tobias, such as university professors on Prozac or bipolar businessmen receiving regular medication. However, Tobias said he routinely encounters problems “where mental health and poverty intersect.” Chris Summerville, a member of the Commission’s Board of Directors and an ordained Christian minister, said about a third of homeless people have “a diagnosable mental illness” and about half of hospital stays for the homeless are due to mental health issues.

So it’s a good bet that many of the homeless, including sgueegee people, are suffering from, or are at risk of developing a mental illness. We need to take this into account when we are dealing with them – that is we need to engage in non-confrontational, non-violent behaviour, including, and perhaps specifically, verbal communications.

I would assume this would pre-clude the use of the “F” word when dealing with squeegees, panhandlers and other street involved people. Hopefully it would also extend to those we deal with on a regular basis amongst family, business and our own circle of friends. I feel that, as Kat has commented on my previous post, violence and confrontational behaviour are becoming the norm. The incident with the squeegee is not unique to the homeless, but a growing problem in society at large.

For example, when we do our Project417 sandwich runs weekly, taking bag lunches to the homeless street people, there is one woman who has been living next to the court house for several months, I approach with special care. She obviously is suffering from mental illness, and challenges us if we offer her food, asking dozens of questions – “Who are we, what organization authorizes us, why does the city allow us, why should she accept food…” and so on. If you try to respond to each question, or remind her that you have met before she becomes increasingly adjitated, angry and confused. Most of her verbal attacks are personal and abusive in nature and she will follow us and pursue us across the square if she doesn’t feel satisfied with our answers. I recognize the source of her abusive and violent behaviour and do all I can to calm her if we inadvertantly disturb her. Mike - Homeless on Queen

Check the links to the right of this post for further articles on the subject.

Squeegee and Panhandling

No Violence!

Well I was shocked yesterday when I heard about an alleged assault of a driver in a convertible by a squeegee kid.  I remember the news reporting the details as “the squeegee kid offered to clean the drivers car windows and the driver said No and an argument ensued. The youth climbed into the passenger side of the car and proceeded to assault the driver. Police are investigating”.  So the first thing that comes to my mind is that there should be ZERO TOLERANCE  for any type of violence out on the streets, and no excuses for street people assaulting anyone regardless of antagonism, with the exception of self-defence.  The second is – These are my people, some are my friends, I know most of them by sight and many by name. What are we going to do? It’s like they’re committing hari-kari.

Obviously this is a very large issue and I’m going to be commenting on it extensively over the next few days.  Councillor Casey Ootes is renewing his call for a complete ban on panhandling in Toronto. Do you agree or disagree? Here’s some insight ito the news reports:  Quote”…the driver said no and an argument ensued…” .  Common sense tells us that the driver said much more than “no”,  he probably made good use of the f**k word and may have followed it up with the “get-a-job” epithet or some other pithy and , only to him, witty remark designed to hurt.  He may even have challenged the youth – thats for the police investigation to decide. I won’t say you get what you deserve, because there is no excuse for violence, but who is the first to have escalated the violence?, the driver or the squeegee kid? Is violence and assault only physical? No, of course not. Look into the issues surrounding violence against women and the first symptons are always “verbal abuse”-  Using violent hurtful language is a form of assault. And I can tell you from experience that these street youth face that violence hundreds of times a day.

Panhandling also comes under attack again, with the reminder that a “gang of panhandlers” murdered an innocent visitor to the city just last month. I’ll discuss this more in the next post. Just suffice it to say, the attackers were NOT a “gang” of panhandlers, they may not have even been from Toronto and just in town to visit, party and cause trouble…

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