I could have told you this wasn’t going to go over well.
Toronto’s upscale Leaside neighbourhood is in the spotlight – and not because of its soaring real estate prices.
Central to the family and nanny-filled, tree-lined neighbourhood is the restaurant, boutique, bakery, and gelato-saturated strip of Bayview Avenue. As a central retail channel surrounded by residential streets, it gives the area a small town vibe, where a trip to Bayview is always filled with run-ins with other red wagon-clad families, many familiar with one another through the local Leaside baseball and hockey leagues or school fundraising initiatives.
Trust me, I grew up there.
It’s the type of ‘hood where neighbours gossip about what stores and restaurants are closing and what will replace them. A few years back, residents rejoiced when a LCBO replaced a former Blockbuster video. The nail salon regulars were equally as happy about the addition of high-end nail spot The Ten Spot not too long ago.
Lately, residents have wondered what would replace the former Sleep Country store. Perhaps it would be another juice bar or a trendy boutique, they pondered over lattes.
The last thing residents expected to see was a sign on the hoarding-covered store announcing that it would become a homeless shelter. But that’s just what they woke up to last Friday. A sign informed that the privately-funded Jefferson Homeless Shelter would open on Nov. 1, offering 62 beds and hot meals, run by a volunteer staff of three.
It didn’t take long for the well-groomed local residents to take notice and basically freak out in a classic case of NIMBYism.
According to Ted Stuebing, who runs the outlet The South Bayview Bulldog many residents contacted him, along with their local councilor with their concerns. Many were even in tears at the prospect. When Stuebing stopped by the location and spoke to a young lady who claimed to work for the shelter, she acknowledged that there likely weren’t 62 homeless people in the area, but that they would be bussed in.
That piece of news was particularly shocking to residents in that neighbourhood. Due to its location off the subway line, the sighting of homeless people is an incredibly rare occurrence on Bayview, and inhabitants remain separated from the poverty that exists just a short drive down the Bayview Extension away.
If only there was a fly on the hoarding to capture the reactions of the undoubtedly angry and upset residents…
Oh, wait – it’s 2015 – there was a camera there to document it all. And the whole thing was a set-up.
As an initiative to raise awareness to the stigma that exists surrounding the city’s homeless epidemic, the project was a hidden-camera stunt that was employed to highlight the cause ahead of Election Day. The camera was concealed in the wood siding. And nobody knew any better.
That is, until the next day.
On Saturday, a different notice went up – one that was met with both relief and anger. For the residents, the good news was that their Bayview bubble would not be infiltrated by the less fortunate, as indicated by a new notice on the storefront:
“You told us you don’t want a shelter here. Neither do we. Support us in creating long-term solutions. Let’s end homelessness,” it said, and gave a link to Raising the Roof’s website.
Raising the Roof is a Toronto-based charity that offers national leadership on long-term solutions to homelessness. The organization is also behind a recent campaign that saw real homeless people read out mean tweets about homelessness.
Advertising agency Leo Burnett offered the charity a little pro-bono work in an effort to dispel the typical myths and misconceptions around homelessness, according to charity director Carolann Barr. “The purpose of that is to release it just before the election, to get voters to really think about homelessness and what their local leaders and federal leaders are doing about that issue,” said Barr, according to MetroNews.
Though it may be removed from the daily realities of many of us, homelessness in Toronto is at what John Tory calls “embarrassing” levels. There are 5000 homeless people in Toronto on any given night.
The bad news for the Leaside residents, of course, is that their far-from-positive reactions to the proposed fictional shelter will soon be broadcast for the city (and likely beyond) to see.
The camera hidden on the store front, along with several others hidden around the area captured all the good, bad, and ugly reactions to the proposal and the footage will be used in a film that will be released on October 12, making for a few tense organic turkey-filled Thanksgiving dinners in Leaside.
The faces of the deceived residents will be blurred out, but – in a neighbourhood where everyone knows everyone – I’m guessing it won’t be difficult to spot your neighbour.
Barr hopes that those who were upset at the prospect of homeless people in the neighbourhood will learn from their experience and realize that anyone can become homeless in their lives due to circumstance.
Even if you live in Leaside, with three kids in hockey, and an Audi SUV in your driveway.
UPDATE: The video has been released. Check out the reactions for yourself here.