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Podcast transcript for

“1000 too Many: The Homeless Memorial”

Rev. Stephen Milton

Jan 17, 2020

Narration:

Hello, and welcome to the Lawrence Park Community Church Podcast for the week of January

12th, 2020. My name is Rev. Stephen Milton. In this week’s podcast, I want to take you along on

a journey I made this week. I decided to join a protest against homelessness in Toronto, which

turned out very differently than I had expected.

 

Rev. Alexa Gilmour at City Hall:

William Hunta. Edmond Wai Hong yu. Patrick Pangowish, Lisa Lynn Anstey, Garland Sheppard…

 

Narration:

On Tuesday, January 14th, 2020, I found myself at Toronto city hall, lying on the floor outside

the Mayor’s office.

 

Voice at City Hall:

Randy Nicholls. October 1 – Vernon Crowe; October – John Doe; (Cowboy) Hutchings; October 23

– Wesley Mirarka; October – John Doe.

 

I wasn’t the only one on the floor. There were about fifty of us – homeless people, street nurses,

ministers, rabbis, concerned citizens. We had come to deliver a petition to the Mayor, demanding

that the city declare homelessness an emergency so funds could be made available to make more

shelter space available.

The reason that it is such a priority right now is that every week in Toronto one or two people die

who are homeless. There have been 1000 deaths of people who are homeless since the late

1980s.

 

Voice at City Hall:

Gary Blackburn; Charles Cameron; F.A.K; Leonard McClaren.

 

I didn’t expect to be taking part in a die-in. The road that led me here started a few days earlier,

at our Soul Table gathering on Sunday night.

As many of you know, every Sunday night, Lawrence Park Community Church hosts a gathering

called Soul Table. It’s our attempt to create a new kind of caring, justice-oriented community in

the city. We invite people to speak about big issues which are important to people living in the

city, and we talk about spirituality.

This past Sunday, we heard from Cathy Crowe, a long-time advocate for Toronto’s homeless

population.

 

Cathy Crowe at Soul Table:

In Toronto, why are so many more people homeless right now? Everything is worse than when I

started 30 years ago.

 

Narration:

Cathy Crowe is a nurse by training. For the past thirty years, she has been working as a street

nurse, tending to the needs of people who live in alley ways, ravines, sleep on heating grates and

shelters in the city.

 

Cathy Crowe at Soul Table:

Just to give you a sense of the enormity of the problem today. 235,000 Canadians, people in

Canada, will be homeless this year. Eight million are right on the edge, precariously housed,

maybe paying 60 percent of their income on rent, or maybe living in a building about to be

demolished. And then - a gentleman earlier – you – that was talking about this. When buildings

are being torn down, or when renovictions are happening, people lose their housing. 60,000 are

youth, like street youth, teenagers. 22,000 in addition are children, that means little kids with

their Mom, Dad or guardian in a shelter across the country. Ok.

 

Narration:

The Toronto shelter system is, at best, imperfect. According to the City’s own studies, on any

given night, there are about 10,000 people who are homeless in the GTA. They basically have

two choices about where to sleep. They can try to find a bed in one the city’s 63 shelters, which

are spread all over the city, but mostly downtown.1 Or, they can sleep outside somewhere. The

problem is that there are more homeless people than there are beds in the shelters. Over 500

people each night will find no place to sleep inside, so they have to fend for themselves outside.

2It is a kind of Russian roulette. Each morning, people must leave the shelters, to spend the day

out on the street, and then hope that when the shelters open, they can find a bed again. One night

you may be inside, the next, you’re outside. It is a precarious, dangerous existence.

And over the years, as more and more people have become homeless, more and more have died

on the streets.

 

Cathy Crowe at Soul Table:

Again, we have continued to, and next week we will be adding a lot of names to the homeless

memorial.

1 https://www.toronto.ca/community-people/community-partners/emergency-shelter-operators/about-torontosshelter-

system/see-our-shelters/

2 https://www.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/99be-2018-SNA-Results-Report.pdf, p. 3.

 

Narration:

Cathy Crowe came to speak to us during the same week that a memorial service was being held

downtown to commemorate the thousandth death of a homeless person on Toronto’s streets. It

was held on a Tuesday, at noon, so I decided to go.

 

( sound up of indigenous drumming and singing)

 

The event was held outside the Church of the Holy Trinity. It is the small church which stands

outside the west wall of the Eaton Centre. It is easy to miss. It is dwarfed by the commercial

temple that is the shopping mall.

There were about 150 people standing outside the church steps. An indigenous drummer was

singing a lament on the steps, surrounded by news cameras. At her feet were the names of some

of the dead, written in chalk on the pavement. A few steps away is the homeless memorial itself

– a list of names in a book, encased in glass. It is a very big book.

 

Akia Munga at the memorial:

We know what the answer is. Politicians know what the answer is. If you ask us we will tell you.

Clearly this is an emergency. We need to get David Williams to do his job as the chief medical

officer of health and put real money into this crisis. We need an accessible safe supply program.

We need an accessible subsidizing housing program that gives us access to the housing that you

say is available.

 

Narration:

That’s Akia Munga. Like many of the speakers today, they know some of the names on the list

of those who died.[Munga prefers they/them pronouns] Munga explains that they were once

homeless themselves, and used to ride the TTC during the day, waiting for the shelters to open.

Now Munga is an addiction counsellor at Toronto Overdose Prevention Society.

 

Akia Munga at the memorial:

We are demanding that Mayor Tory and Doug Ford actively build sustainable subsidized

housing units. They should be directing the same energy that is being used to deny that this is a

crisis to make sure that folks who are new to the country and folks who have been living on the

streets for years have a clear avenue out of this crisis. We are in an emergency, we are in a crisis,

we are in a disaster. The simple fact is that living, sustainable housing and a non-toxic drug

supply is a human right which the government is obligated to supply regardless of their desire to

see us dead or out of sight.

 

Narration:

Being homeless is a depressing, dispiriting life. Nothing is predictable. You never know where

you will sleep. What is predictable is how society sees you. You are the bottom of the social

pyramid, despised by many, ignored by most. It’s hard to stay happy when you know the rest of

society thinks you are their worst nightmare. So, some homeless people turn to drugs and alcohol

to self-medicate, to deal with the emotional burden of their situation. Others are simply trying to

deal with pre-existing mental health issues which won’t get better with no fixed address, no

regular health care or a supportive family.

 

Akia Munga at the memorial:

Even though it is hard. Even though it hurts, and it hurts, even though the lump in our throat gets

bigger and the heaviness in our chest gets heavier, we will continue, we must continue to call for

action, to rattle our cages, to scream and persevere, so that the next and the next don’t have to die

without dignity and in despair. We must, and we will, as we mourn. Thank you ( applause).

 

Narration:

On January 1st, just as the new year began, another homeless person died of an overdose, right

here where we are standing outside the church. His name was Byron Cromarty, 29 years old.3

There is nothing theoretical about this problem.

 

(Singer at Memorial:)

What’s the story John Tory?

I know you see what I see.

Emergency. Homeless Emergency.

What’s the story John Tory?

Call the emergency.

‘Cause Cathy’s been fighting, for so many years

Let’s work together….

 

Narration:

People who are homeless die from a variety of causes. Most of them are diseases which housed

people get, like cancer and heart disease, but for the homeless, they are fatal decades earlier. The

median age of death for homeless people is 48 years. You and I , if we are housed, can expect to

live into our 80s.4 Homelessness is not just upsetting and depressing, it is also deadly. In

Toronto, an average of two people a week die who are homeless. In a city where there are

literally thousands of empty condos and homes. A recent study found that there were 28,000

empty homes in Toronto. 5 There are 10,000 homeless people. Our system is not working, and

people are dying as a result. That’s why these activists are calling for the city to declare

homelessness an emergency.

3 https://toronto.ctvnews.ca/it-s-egregious-1000th-name-added-to-toronto-s-homeless-memorial-1.4767547

4 https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/100-people-died-while-homeless-in-2017-prompting-calls-for-morecoordination-

with-local-hospitals-1.4618119

5 It is estimated that there are 28,000 empty homes in Toronto: https://www.point2homes.com/news/canada-realestate/

ghost-homes-across-canada-decade-change-150-cities.html

 

Cathy Crowe at the Memorial:

Over 20 years ago, when a homeless person died, there would be outrage, and we would go to

city hall, and we would hold a press conference. We would knock on the glass doors which

would be locked at the Mayor’s office. We would fight for inquests.

 

Narration:

That’s Cathy Crowe, the street nurse who spoke at Soul Table on Sunday.

 

Cathy Crowe at the Memorial:

We are going to have a peaceful and silent march to the Mayor’s office. While we were here

today, I am happy to announce, that we have reached over 25,000 signatures on this petition. It is

a thousand pages long. People around the world have signed this petition by the way. This is a

human rights issue. We allow anyone to sign this petition. We are going to deliver this to Mayor

John Tory. And it is a petition asking him to declare homelessness an emergency, and act in such

a way.

 

Narration:

After a short bagged lunch, a group of about 75 of us head off to City Hall. By law, an

emergency declaration would enable the city to call on all of its departments to provide extra

resources. Most importantly, it would enable the city to demand extra funding from the Province

to create more housing. This is not the first time the city has been asked to declare homelessness

an emergency. In 2019, two city councillors did the same. Since then, another hundred people

have died. The hope on Tuesday was that perhaps this time, the city would listen.

 

Outside city hall, our group meets with some security guards. They don’t seem surprised to see

us. Fortunately, they are very civil, and agree to let us go inside to the mayor’s office. One them

receives a big hug from Kevin, one of homeless men who has led the march.

After our bags are searched, we go up the stairs to the second floor. I realize I have never been to

the Mayor’s office before. It has a glass wall, and the door is closed. We gather in front of it for a

few more speeches. This is Raffi Aaron of the Interfaith Coalition to Fight Homelessness.

 

Rafi Aaron, outside the Mayor’s Office:

One might call this an excruciating chapter in our city’s history. But it is not a chapter, it is

ongoing, and the list of names is filling books. We will never let two homeless deaths a week be

the norm. Again, we say to Mayor Tory, call an emergency. And we also say, No More Deaths.

Can you repeat that with me? Crowd: NO MORE DEATHS! NO MORE DEATHS! NO MORE

DEATHS!

 

Narration:

After a few minutes of waiting, a young woman from the Mayor’s office arrives at the glass

doors. She comes out. She looks a bit intimidated – I get the feeling she wished the Mayor was

meeting with us, too.

 

Mayor’s Assistant:

Thank you so much for coming, today. I am going to accept this on the mayor’s behalf. I really

appreciate you taking the time.

 

Narration:

The petition, which is 1000 pages long, is presented to her by a nine year old girl, Maxine, who

has been homeless.

 

Maxine, 9 year old girl:

It’s terrible, having all these people dying while you are doing your Black Friday shopping.

 

Narration:

The assistant promises to get it to Mayor Tory. After she leaves, the last part of the memorial

begins. All one thousand names on the list of the dead will be read out loud.

 

Maxine outside Mayor’s Office:

1987. 7 deaths. Randolph Fraser; Mary Kellar; Emery Hache; Claude Wolfe.

 

Narration:

The names begin in the late 1980s.

 

Rev. Alexa Gilmour outside Mayor’s Office:

William Hunta. Edmond Wai Hong Yu. Patrick Pangowish, Lisa Lynn Anstey,

 

Narration:

Perhaps because we are used to speaking loudly in public, several ministers take turns reading

the names. I volunteer, too.

 

Rev. Stephen Milton outside Mayor’s Office:

1999: 42 deaths. Cliffie; Kevin; Sammy Happyjack; Leeanne…

 

Narration:

After a few minutes, we are asked to lie down on the ground to stage a die-in. We lie down next

to one thousand small paper cut outs of dead bodies, which will be left on the floor outside the

Mayor’s office. I don’t think I have been in a die-in since the 1980s during the anti-nuke

protests. But, I get down onto the floor.

 

Woman outside Mayor’s Office:

Henry (Horse) Picody; John Kovacs; Michael Fairthorne; James; Calvin Waindubence

 

Narration:

It takes a long time to read 1000 names. And as I lie on the ground, listening to the names, a

disturbing pattern emerges.

 

Man outside the Mayor’s Office:

Wayne Gorman; Floyd Anderson; John Doe; John Doe; John Doe; Donald Kimmer Baker…

 

Narration:

The names are grouped by year, from the past to the present. As the names get closer to 2020, the

number of anonymous deaths steadily grows.

 

Woman outside Mayor’s Office:

Kenny Martin; John Doe; John Doe; John Doe; John Doe; John Doe; John Doe; John Doe…

 

Narration:

So many people who have died without homes, and even without names. This strikes me as a

horrible indignity. Not only has our city failed to find people a place to live, but we can’t even be

bothered to learn the name of a person who has died when homeless. Unhoused, and now,

unnamed. How is it possible that this is happening in a city with so much wealth? With so many

condo towers? How can we be a world class city when so many people will die on the streets,

and will be erased from memory, without even a name?

 

Woman outside Mayor’s Office:

John Doe; John Doe; Harunoba (Harry) Kobayashi; John Doe; Mike Scully; John Doe; John

Doe; John Doe; John Doe; John Doe….

 

Narration:

We can do better. We must do better. Basic decency demands it, our faith demands it and so does

international law. The politicians will only act if they think there is a groundswell of demand

from the general public. If you agree that homelessness is a problem we should be solving with

more housing, please write a letter to your city councillor and your MPP. They are counting on

you not to bother. Prove them wrong.

 

Man outside Mayor’s Office:

John Doe; John Doe; Larry Callahan; John Doe; David Rees; Jane Doe; John Doe….

(music)

Narration:

And that’s this week’s podcast form Lawrence Park Community Church. If you would like to

learn more about the church, please visit our website at www.lawrenceparkchurch.ca. Thanks

very much for listening, see you next week.

(music)