OCAP panhandle protest ends peacefully
Published Wednesday, December 12, 2007 1:30PM EST
Dozens of police officers and security guards kept a close eye on a panhandling protest in Toronto's financial district on Wednesday, but the demonstration ended up being much smaller than authorities had anticipated.
Only about two dozen protestors attended the rally held in the city's underground PATH walkway. The event was organized by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.
Police and businesses in the area were expecting a massive rally. As a precaution, dozens of officers were stationed throughout the downtown core and underground walkway, while businesses hired extra security guards.
The rally was short and ended peacefully. The event began with protestors handing out soup and bread to the homeless and ended with a march through the PATH system, described as the world's largest underground shopping mall.
Organizers described the rally as an "information demonstration" to shed light on the city's shortage of shelter and hostel beds.
"People talk to me and tell me they're being turned away," OCAP's Gaetan Heroux said. "People are telling us the overcrowding is bad, the bed bugs are impossible.
"A lot of them would rather stay on the street."
Another demonstrator said he knows firsthand that the homeless are not getting proper shelter.
"I've been in those places where they don't get the beds," the activist said. "We obviously need better shelters and more shelters."
Before the demonstration, Heroux told CTV Newsnet social assistance rates and the minimum wage are both too low.
"We want people to understand that these issues, where you see homeless people begging on the streets, are social issues," he said.
"In a large city like Toronto, we do not have the social housing that's necessary to house people."
Heroux said charity alone can't solve the homelessness problem, which he said really took flight starting in 1995.
"People want housing. People need a safe place where they can lay down," he said.
Right now, homeless people can be fined $125 for sleeping on the street. But the shelters are overcrowded, he said.
"To me, it says we lack leadership," Heroux said.
Toronto should start by not enforcing the bylaw against homeless people sleeping on the street, and Ottawa should spend money on social housing rather than fighting a war in Afghanistan, he said.
With a report from CTV's John Musselman