Consolidation for Social Awareness and Responsibility
Advocate for the Homeless
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Thursday, April 11, 2002

Tent City


On Toronto's contaminated shoreline life resembles a post-apocalyptic

Flames licking from steel barrels, a maze of box-sized homes bound together
with rusty nails and rolling hills of discarded junk set the mood in this
Road Warrior-like squatters village in the shadow of the city's elite.

Tent City has a chaotic, anarchist feel but the nearly 80 residents are
convinced their lives here are far more sane than they ever were while they
tap-danced with the government, in and out of costly programs and shelters.

"I just got tired of making $36,000 a year and starving to death," says
Bonnie, herself a former social worker. "(Social workers) would have me
either working some menial job or on welfare and living like a pauper for
the next five years while I pull myself out of debt. Here, I have complete
control over my world."

Police are rarely called and street justice is the preferred choice to
settle disputes. There is a "bad part of town" where newcomers don't go.

But in many other ways this neighbourhood works.

The population grows by the month and five new places are being built right

There is a sense of friendship, family and a dollop of pride in a community
the residents built with their hands.

The city has given up trying to evict them from lands soaking in lead and
arsenic. Residents have given up on the city.

"I am not homeless and the people who purport to speak for me in City Hall
are liars," Bonnie says emphatically with many others nodding in agreement.
"I have an alternative living choice. These advocates don't represent me."

Tent City residents even scoff at their city hall advocates' master plan to
have them relocated into a $1-million prefabricated housing project nearby
on Commissioners St.

"You take these people out of here and put them in these cheap houses you've
built and they will start to have all the same problems that got them here
in the first place," Bonnie says.

The plan, okayed by council in November, calls for building 32,
175-square-foot woodframe Viceroy-type houses with kitchens and chemical
toilets. Residents would pay a $325 monthly mortgage and eventually own the

"Let me tell you how my plan works," Bonnie says. "I will stay down in Tent
City and I will continue to live here. I will live here rent free and if my
debtors can find me, good luck because I'm not even getting welfare."

Others among this eclectic collection of ex-cons, alcoholics, drug addicts,
abuse victims and social misfits mock the $12,000 prefab model shack that
was donated to Tent City. "Give us $12,000 for materials and we will build
something people would actually want to live in," says Doug.

"We have to get away from this philosophy that you can sit on your ass and
the government is going to support you," says Fred Dunn, who has made a
wooden hideaway home for himself in a Toronto ravine.

It's tucked among the trees, a stone's throw from the Bayview Ave. extension
and Rosedale mansions.

"If you want something in life, no matter what it is, you are going to have
to work for it."

Dunn, who turns 79 this month, still has pension money. He has never been on
welfare. He chooses this life. He wanted this freedom. He spits in disgust
at being called homeless.

"I'm standing on my own two feet."

Dunn has spent much of his life alone. Born out of wedlock in 1923, his
wealthy merchant father refused to recognize him. His mother died when he
was six after she was institutionalized with tuberculosis.

He can spend hours tearing apart the movement to fund shelter and city
programs. He vows he will never stay in a shelter.

"People will always take advantage of the government. When you see a fat
cow, you milk it and the government is a fat cow," Dunn says. "I don't have
a lot of money but it's enough to survive. I am prepared to live at a lower

On the street he is Uncle Fred, friend and sometime saviour of Toronto's
street youth.

A hulking 55-year-old Austrian immigrant, Manfred is out to make sure as few
teens as possible fall prey to the plagues of steet life: "booze, drugs and

Manfred arrived from Austria when he was 10 years old.

Since Aug. 2, 2000, he has lived outside, carrying everything he owns in
plastic bags.

"I walked into Seaton House and I walked back out in 10 seconds," says
Manfred after another night on a street corner grate. "It was the most
disgusting thing I had ever seen."

His two children are grown and know little about his situation. He doesn't
see them often any more. He doesn't want them to know.

Manfred sleeps near City Hall snugly wrapped in a bedroll made with three
sleeping bags, two cover blankets and two more blankets for padding.

He has a bag of winter clothes that include a tattered sweater and a woolly
jacket. He has bundle of books, some personal ID documents and a rattling

"Everything I have is right here," Manfred says.

His biggest daily battle is to stay clean and to collect enough money to buy
a mickey and a sandwich.

"Life out here isn't that bad. People are nice to me."

Copyright © 2002, Canoe, a division of Netgraphe Inc.All rights reserved.