A Little Thing We Call Community

By Ben Bull
Published January 02, 2007

The recent kerfuffle in the Toronto Beach neighbourhood, about the placement of a homeless shelter in their midst, has gotten at least one Star reader upset.

In his recent letter, resident Mike Whelan bemoans the behaviour of Toronto's street people and asks, "Is it too much to ask that hard-working tax-paying citizens have an area around their home that can be considered a refuge from it all?"

Yes Mr Whelan, it is. In my letter to the Editor response, I thought to remind Mr Whelan of a little thing we call community, and cited once again the excellent impact that mixed neighbourhoods have on lifting the more affluently-challenged citizens up by their bootstraps, and enabling the higher income earners to get some meaningful perspective in their lives.

Here's a copy of my response:

RE: 'Many Rights For Homeless', Star Letters, Dec 29, 2006

I feel sorry for this letter writer. I don't think I have read or heard such an unsympathetic appraisal of the plight of the homeless - and at Christmas time, too!

While I understand his frustration at "paying for it all" through his high taxes I have to wonder why he feels the need to have a "refuge" from the homeless in his neighbourhood.

Don't the streets belong to us all? It reminds me of the gated communities you see in the States with "Sunny Acres" or some such nonsense plastered across the entrance.

I think the fundamental problem with this "Beaches attitude" (and I'm sure it is not prevalent among all Beaches residents) is that the Beaches - like so many other Toronto neighbourhoods - is not a mixed income enclave.

My own neighbourhood behind St Lawrence Market encompasses all manner of income brackets through its assortment of affordable housing, co-ops and high-end condos.

I can assure the letter writer that while I too feel the pain of high taxes and regularly run the gauntlet of street peddlers on my way to work, I do not feel the same disdain for my less affluent neighbours.

Nor do I feel the need to shut them out at night. In fact, I am certain that by sharing the same streets and amenities, my neighbours and I are able to develop a common bond, a sense of community that enables us to break down the kind of ignorant attitudes expressed, and see the possibility of something better in our lives.

Snobbish attitudes are borne out of ignorance and segregation and they do nothing to address the challenges in our midst. Our neighbourhoods should reflect the world we live in - the real world. Torontonians should strive to be good neighbours to all.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 02, 2007 at 21:19:55

great letter Ben. I never realized how I had instinctively grown up through my youth in the suburbs with a fear and 'disdain' for homeless types until moving into my downtown neighbourhood. I have completely fallen in love with (and now understand) my mixed income neighbourhood. When we first moved here it was kind of unnerving to see the few homeless guys trotting up York St everynight to sleep in Dundurn Park and then back down York towards downtown each morning. Then, there were the recycling guys - rummaging around for metal and other materials worth money. Recently my wife and I had a chat wondering, with concern, where the homeless guy 'with the big jacket' has been. We hadn't seen him in months. Thankfully he is ok and showed up again recently...last Easter I took him out a warm hot-cross bun when I saw him sitting in a bustop trying to stay warm and dry. Now I put my recycling out early enough in the evening, as most of our neighbourhood does, to allow the hard working entrepeneurs to come by and search for their income. I have more appreciation and respect for these folks....through bad circumstances, choices or addictions they have ended up with a sad lot in life....but they are still human beings, no worse and no better than you and I. If not for the grace of God, I could be plodding up and down York each day. We love living in a neighbourhood with $300,000 homes next to cheap apartments and drop in centres. Most of the neighbourhood falls in between those two extremes, and the balance seems to work just right. You hit the nail on the head - community. Jane Jacobs illustrates the beauty of community in Death and Life of Great American cities. Everyone should read it and we should strive to develop neighbourhoods with a strong sense of community.

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