Down, But Not Out

An introspective examination of the tragedy of homelessness in the richest society ever to exist on Earth

Homelessness is not an accident. Homelessness is not a problem. Homelessness is a political agenda. Why else would there be so many homeless people in the richest country that ever existed on the face of this planet.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Evicting Chris Gardiner (click here)

This article appeared in the Toronto Star Pubdate:August 24, 2006Page: A12Section: NewsEdition:MET Length:498 Highway shanty knocked down. City bulldozes shack by Gardiner Man lived there for several years Byline/Source: By Christopher Maughan Toronto Star Photo Caption: TORY ZIMMERMAN TORONTO STAR Ron Craven, a friend of Chris "Gardiner," was among those who objected to the removal of Chris' shack beneath the downtown highway. He was so at home he named himself after the place. But after eight years living there, a homeless man who became known as Chris "Gardiner" has been evicted from his makeshift house underneath Toronto's downtown highway. City officials and Toronto police arrived at around 7 a.m. yesterday to try to persuade Chris, 44, and five other residents to agree to move into social housing. An hour and a half later, police dragged all of them from the home, taking him and three others into custody. Then the bulldozers went to work, trashing the walls of his small, three-room shack. About 30 people showed up to protest the eviction. Many knew Chris personally and wondered why he was being targeted now, given that he had lived there peaceably for so many years. "He's an easygoing, gentle person," said Ron Craven, an elderly man who lived with Chris while he was still on the streets. "There's no criminality in him at all." Shawn Simpson, who was evicted yesterday morning but not taken into custody, said he thought he knew why the shack was torn down. "See behind there, the condos being built? Nobody in there wants to look at this," he said over the roar of nearby dump trucks. Still, it's hard to see how people would have even noticed it, tucked underneath the on-ramp, inside a chain-link fence around an old hydro transformer. Chris had put up sticks on the fence to screen off his shack. Inside, he had a propane-stove, a TV and light running off batteries, even a sink. It took him almost two years to scrounge up boards, nails, and scrap metal to build the place, after police tore down an earlier shack. Simpson said he'll remember Chris' shack as a welcome spot. "He would cook Christmas dinner for all the homeless people who get a little depressed that time of year. But no matter what I say, people won't understand, they'll just judge us." But Iain De Jong, an outreach worker with the city's Streets to Homes project, insisted he had Chris' and his roommates' best interests at heart. "My message is pretty clear: we're there to provide services and we're there to provide help." He said the eviction is due to refurbishment being done on the underside of the highway. Since it began a year and a half ago, the Streets to Homes project has successfully gotten 730 people into social housing, De Jong said. This article appeared in the Globe & Mail

TORONTO -- A man who has been living under a highway off-ramp for the past eight years was evicted from his makeshift home yesterday morning, following a standoff between police and activists who accuse the city of treating homeless people without respect. Chris "Gardiner" - named after the roadway that sheltered him - was arrested along with five friends who stood by his side as police entered the small three-room house built out of scrap wood. They were all released yesterday afternoon, after being charged with trespassing and failure to leave the premises when directed, and fined $70 each. TD "It is the end, but it's also the beginning," Chris said in an interview after his release. "The city has not heard the last from me. They have no idea what's in store for them." A 44-year-old with a bushy brown beard, glasses and long, brown dreadlocks tied up under a navy blue bandana, Chris held his ribs in pain, saying police had "dropped him" during the arrest. His eviction follows a year of formal requests by the city that he move on so that construction could begin on the pillars that hold up the highway above. On Friday, he received a written notice from the city warning him to leave his shack by 12:01 a.m. yesterday. Nearly 30 bystanders, many who camped overnight to support Chris, chanted "Shame" and "Leave Chris alone" yesterday morning as officers handcuffed and carried him out of his shack. The dwelling, complete with a well-stocked kitchen, a propane-powered camping stove, a sink (but no running water) and a light bulb hanging from the ceiling, powered by the same battery that ran his stereo and hand-held television, was torn down by hydro workers shortly afterward. His belongings, city officials said, have been "put away in safe storage." Chris said later that he doesn't want any of his possessions back. In fact, he has refused to accept anything from city outreach workers, who have offered him an apartment and other help. Iain De Jong, manager of the city's Streets into Homes project, said he has been trying for months to convince Chris to move into subsidized housing. "Look around, this is a construction zone," Mr. De Jong said. "There's work being done in this area, it is not a safe environment to be living in. There will be equipment, there will be trucks going in and out, there will be dust and debris falling down from overhead." In anticipation of the construction, Mr. De Jong said an intensive outreach program has had city workers visiting homeless people underneath the Gardiner "multiple times each day" for the last month. But Kolin Davidson, once homeless but now an activist with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, said such programs don't respect people's rights. "You don't send outreach workers down simply as a precursor to an eviction notice," said Mr. Davidson, who was one of the supporters arrested yesterday. "Chris was a lot safer [underneath the Gardiner] than in the slums that are available to him. The City of Toronto has a lot to learn about building trust with people." Mr. De Jong argued that moving people into special housing is the only way the city can solve homelessness. "I've seen people's lives change for the better when they make the move from living underneath bridges or out in parks and into safe and affordable housing," he said. Between February, 2005 and June, 2006, the city's Streets into Homes project moved 730 people directly from the street into housing, Mr. De Jong said. According to a city report, only 11 per cent of those people became homeless again. "When we bring someone from the streets to a house we don't just say goodbye after that," he said. "There are dedicated staff who follow up with these individuals." Chris says he makes $35 to $50 a week returning empty beer bottles and picking up dropped change. Originally from Montreal, he came to Toronto when he was 19. At 31, he said he went through "a kind of revelation" and adopted religious convictions that include a rejection of the notion of land ownership. "You can worship your false god - the law - and claim that he owns everything. I do not," he said. "I claim that the real God owns everything including the Gardiner Expressway itself, the land under the Gardiner Expressway and the air over the Gardiner Expressway."

2 comments:

Fred said...

That religious revelation about land ownership is interesting. In truth, I believe all does belong to God, and it is he that we should worship above all else. It seems God does want us to obey laws. Still, we are obliged to (non-violently) confront injustice.

Ronzig said...

I agree. The present socio/economic system is based on laws to control people rather than to protect them. I have lived by a philosophy of non violent anarchism. If a law is not just, it does not merit adherence.