It’s easy to have high morals and strong social ideals. But it can be a real bore to actually practice what you preach, can’t it?
Leslieville residents were less than impressed on Saturday when they turned up to vent their frustrations over a proposed men’s homeless shelter that could be coming to their neighbourhood.
Councillor Mary Margaret-McMahon initially described the community as having a positive response to the issue, but the latest meeting to discuss the proposed plans signalled a rather different attitude.
Margaret-McMahon, who originally described locals as having “a great attitude” to the plan and being “proponents of mixed neighbourhoods” was swarmed by residents, angry about the idea at a heated debate.
Although the council will not vote on the proposed site until its February 3 and 4 meetings, the council has said that it does not need public approval to be given the go-ahead.
One local complained that it endangered her children, making it unsafe for them at their nearby school. Another said to City News, “I think it’s more trouble than it’s worth. I think the seniors are going to be uncomfortable. They are not going to feel like walking out at night.”
Which would make perfect sense. If Leslieville wasn’t a generally safe, middle-class Toronto neighbourhood. And if old people were known for their fondness for evening strolls in the winter.
It’s exactly these kind of faux-justifications for blocking social progress that people like to hide behind. That way they’re not bad people – they’re just concerned citizens or parents.
And we’re all guilty. I don’t sit here in my ivory tower and pretend that there wasn’t a certain park that I dodged all summer long, despite its handy proximity to my apartment, for fear of who I might be engaged in conversation with.
Instead let’s face facts. Nobody actively wants the homeless on their doorstep. But the reality of the matter is that for us to be proactive in helping those who aren’t able to help themselves eventually we’re going to have to see the effects ourselves. And that means on our doorsteps.
For those of us who stood by on ceremony and cheered as Trudeau collected Syrian refugees from Pearson airport, maybe even gloating a little as beleaguered America watched on in stunned silence, how would we feel if these Syrian’s actually moved in next door to us?
Would it still be ok? Or perhaps this would suddenly become a little too real for us. This terrible curse of NIMBY-ism (Not In My Back Yard) plagues all of us as a society – but the reality is that we cannot truly hold onto our principles if we’re not willing to see them executed in our own neighbourhoods.
Back in October, a social experiment was conducted upon unknowing residents of the Leaside neighbourhood. Local charity, Raising the Roof, performed a hoax with hidden cameras and a fake voicemail service to gauge public opinion about a fictional homeless shelter coming to the area’s main retail strip.
While the Leslieville proposal is no joke, they both share an alarming similarity in their mean-spiritedness and opposition to the social changes happening in their own corner of the world. And though the anonymous Leaside objectors may be able to cling to their flawed reasoning – it’s bad for business or that there must be somewhere else to put a shelter – many of the Leslieville protestors simply didn’t want homeless people near their them or their children.
At a time when temperatures are rarely rising above zero in the daytime and plummeting far below after the sun goes down, it seems particularly uncharitable to begrudge the city another facility to offer 80 beds to the homeless at this new Leslie Street location.