Date: Sun, 8 Aug 1999 11:43:09 -0500 (CDT)
From: Tom Boland <email@example.com>
Homeless set up camp in city park
Canada News, 8 August 1999
TORONTO (CP) -- In a light rain under the glow of streetlights in a downtown park Saturday night, dozens of homeless people made a political statement by doing together what they do alone every night all over the city -- sleeping outside.
In open defiance of police and city hall, about 400 homeless people and their advocates set up tents and strung tarps from the trees in historic Allen Gardens on Saturday to protest what they say is a shortage affordable housing and shelters.
But by midnight, the number camped out in the park had dwindled to about 150.
Police "were telling homeless people they can't stay here because it's going to rain a lot," chuckled Dennis MacQuatters, a member of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, which organized the camp-out. "I don't know where else they're going to go."
Despite concerns that the protest could turn ugly, police kept a low profile. About a dozen officers were at the protest, but left at about 10:30 p.m.
"Nobody's going to raise a fuss," said Diana Dean, who lived on the street two years ago, and who suspects her daughter is living on the street today.
"I've been there, I know what it's like," Dean said. "I don't want my grandkids going through this, and the way things are going today that's what's going to happen."
Police had warned Friday they wouldn't hesitate to take action against the tent city. Mayor Mel Lastman said he would tolerate the protest for the weekend, but cautioned that protesters weren't entitled to take over the park. Lastman told reporters the protesters "think they have this coming to them, and they don't."
Park officials and police say organizers don't have a permit for the event and are violating city bylaws by camping in the park.
"The tents are a concern to us. That was one of the activities we did not want to happen because the park is not designed for this," said Paul Ronan, acting director of Toronto's parks and recreation services.
Ronan said he would ask police to take action if the squatters stayed past the weekend.
Among the youngest advocates for the homeless was Nikita Ramdahani, 8, who was clutching a jar of pennies she planned to give to the needy.
"They hardly have anywhere to stay," said Nikita, who wrote to a group that helps the homeless to ask how she could help after she passed a line-up at a Salvation Army hostel near her house last winter.
Anti-poverty workers said the tent city should be a wake-up call for the province and Ottawa about the homeless crisis in Canada's largest city.
"The job now is for the different levels of government to come forward with answers, and that means housing," said street outreach worker Beric German.
"As long as they don't, people will be forced to live in parks."
In recent weeks, city police have been clearing parks and other areas used by the homeless, prompting several protests.
Under the $1.9 million program, 175 officers are being paid overtime for 11 weeks to patrol at least 40 areas where crime is believed to be high. They're supposed to remove squeegee kids, panhandlers and street criminals, but the homeless say they are simply being harassed.
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