Hereâe(TM)s a list of important people youâe(TM)ll never meet.

  • Frank Julian,
  • Carolyn Connolly,
  • Dennis Bowen,
  • Robert Maurice,
  • Biniyam Selleshi.
  • They are important not because they did anything extraordinary, like climb a mountain or cure cancer, but because they were people just like us, living in Toronto, with common struggles and common defeats.

    The list goes on:

  • Johnny Romance,
  • John Doe,
  • John Doe,
  • John Doe,
  • John Doe
  • John Doe.
  • Theyâe(TM)re all dead now.

    Iâe(TM)d wish them the common condolences afforded to all. Rest in Peace.

    But how can there be peace where there is no justice?

    You see, these important people, they were all poor, homeless or under-housed. They were forgotten, ignored; victims of homicide or suicide or the kind of death someoneâe(TM)s too weak to rage against.

    They died from poverty, from the summer heat or in the dead of winter with their face frozen to a sewer grate.

    Death on the streets, death by the strangling hands of poverty or the mind-blowing loneliness of exclusion and despair, in a âeoeworld classâe city where alleyways are graves, buildings are tombstones and shelters are morgues.

    The dead cannot speak, they cannot rage, fight injustice. This task is left for the living. And activists in Toronto have picked up that torch.

    A city in crisis no government cares about

    There has been a rash of street deaths here in recent months, without the usual cop-out excuse of cold weather. Anti-poverty activists and social workers are demanding answers, demanding the city take action before winter creeps in like a thief to steal more lives.

    There have been two more deaths in the last month, just as our city touts a world-renowned âeoeStreets to Homesâe intervention strategy.

    Gaetan Heroux, from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) addressed a small crowd in front of the Torontoâe(TM)s coronerâe(TM)s office last month.

    âeoeOur people are dying. The people who are dying are poor, very poor, many of them spent decades on the street when they died or were recently housed.âe

    âeoeThe city, since 2005, right now under (Toronto Mayor) Millerâe(TM)s regime, has been telling us that everything is fine when we ask about homelessness, or when the press asks. They state theyâe(TM)ve housed 1,700 people and yet, our people are dying on the street,âe he said.

    A community mourns

    We often hear of these deaths through word of mouth, upsetting our own fragile lives with a reminder that poverty kills.

    On Monday, July 7, around supper time, Biniyam Selleshi, a young Ethiopian man in his mid- twenties was found dead in the Salvation Army Maxwell Meighen Hostel.

    On Thursday morning, July 10, Denis Bowen, 42, a native man died outside a social housing building at 200 Sherbourne Street. While the cause of their deaths has not been released to the public, both men were homeless.

    Ghosts and the memories of violence

    Last month at the Toronto Homeless Memorial (THM), eight more deaths were recorded just in the recent months, individuals who had died as a direct result of homelessness.

    Tanya Gulliver of the THM estimates they have only about one quarter or one half names of the total dead. There are 600 names collected since 2000 although it records deaths back to 1985. The list of names can be seen here.

    âeoeOf the eight names added to the memorial, three died as a result of murder and two died as a result of suicide.âe

    âeoeItâe(TM)s one thing when somebody dies because they have cancer or they get sick or they are suffering from a disease they might have also died from if they were housed. But the people who died of suicide or murder are dying strictly because they are homeless. They are dying living outside and there are not enough supports in the city to provide for them,âe she said.

    Carolyn Connolly, or Homocide #38/2008, 54, was found dead in a Toronto alleyway around 7:30 a.m. on Saturday August 2, 2008. Her body was identified through fingerprint analysis and reportedly had obviously signs of trauma. The investigation into her death continues.

    I ask: where is Liberal MPP Deb Matthews (London North Centre) and her big hearted, new poverty reduction committee now? How many funerals did she attend during her cross-province poverty reduction consultation tour?

    Death and despair

    On August 25, 2008, a 25-year-old unidentified man hung himself at Maxwellâe(TM)s (The Salvation Armyâe(TM)s Maxwell Meighen Centre). Gaetan Heroux believes it is important to address these deaths. âeoeâe When a young man commits suicide in a shelter we need to say, âe~[fuck] you, these shelters are supposed to help us. Why are people killing themselves in these shelters?âe(TM)âe

    On a recent visit to an unfit rooming house, when Heroux was told that five or six people had died there in about a monthâe(TM)s period, he was shocked. Another resident suggested to him that, âeoeâe~they just gave up, they just gave up and diedâe(TM)âe .

    There is also the infamous case of Paul Croutch, 59, who was murdered on April 31, 2006, while sleeping in the rough at the Moss Park Armoury by two Canadian Army Reservists, Private Brian Deganis and Corporal Jeffrey Hall.

    Their trial ended May 1, 2008 with a verdict of manslaughter for Private Deganis and Corporal Hall, each were given ten-year sentences. According to testimony at the trial, Private Deganis was heard shouting that he, âeoehated bums and homeless peopleâe and that his dog tags gave him, âeoethe right to kill all the homeless bums, crackheads and whores.âe

    Virtual violence

    While at a computer at the public library, the individual before me had logged onto this online videogame called HoboWars. I started to shake. I must have looked visibly upset. Someone leaned over and asked if I was alright. The kid before me had to be barely sixteen.

    The game is described by its creators as, âeoeA role-playing game where you play as a hobo and compete against thousands of players from around the world âe¦ You can fight other hobos, train, join a gang, race in your very own shopping cart, own and train rats, beg for money, complete fun adventures and heaps more!âe

    The case in Montreal

    Toronto is not the only city to suffer from a spasm of poverty related deaths. Roughly two weeks ago, on August 10, 2008, Montreal North was set ablaze by angry youth upset at the fresh killing of Fredy Villenueva by Montreal police. Another wounded youth still remains in hospital. The Sûreté du Québec is currently investigating the incident.

    âeoeIt is clear that the youth being gunned down are poor and we know that in Toronto in some of our communities right now there are families as we speak who are waiting for the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of the Toronto Police to give a report about what happened to the young son that they lost,âe says Heroux.

    Honour the dead, protect the living, demand answers

    Gaetan Heroux reminds me of a 2007 inquest into a string of homeless deaths during the winter of 2006, including the death of Brent Sims who was run over by a car while still in his sleeping bag. Later that year, three men froze to death on the streets: Irwin Anderson, Eugene Upper and Mirselah Kompani.

    Among the recommendations were that all three levels of government commit to building affordable housing.

    OCAP is critical of Major Millerâe(TM)s municipal efforts to help the homeless through his âeoeStreets to Homesâe program, which has been nominated as a finalist in the 2007/08 World Habitat Awards to be announced in October.

    Streets-to-Homes is supposed to be the cityâe(TM)s soft tough approach to poverty reduction, in comparison to the current Safe Streets Act which has resulted in more than 1,400 charges against aggressive panhandlers last year in August, higher than the 1,257 laid in all of 2006.

    OCAP is not basking in the glow of the international recognition of Millerâe(TM)s grand plan. In a public statement released, âeoeThe City of Toronto’s ‘Streets to Homes’ program is a mechanism for attacking the homeless and driving them from the centre of the City. It dumps people without supports in outlying areas and is a pretext for removing funding from the vital services the homeless need.âe

    All this as the Federal and Ontario governments are at each otherâe(TM)s throats, bickering over who is responsible to fix the affordable housing crisis, while hundreds of millions of dollars of dedicated funds for affordable housing programs are set to expire starting in March 2009 if not used.

    At the August 20 demo, standing in front of the coronerâe(TM)s office, Heroux is visibly frustrated by the cityâe(TM)s response to the housing crisis, poverty and the deaths of people heâe(TM)s known for years on the streets; some of them his friends. He encourages communities from Lawrence Heights to Parkdale to Regent Park to mobilize in the coming weeks.

    Toronto police officers shelter themselves under an awning to avoid the hot August sun. One yawns. Another talks on his cell phone.

    Heroux reminds the crowd, âeoeweâe(TM)re talking about deaths, but there are a lot of people still alive right now who are living in really shitty rooming houses, dangerous situations, hostels that are shutting down, overcrowding âe¦ we need to address this because weâe(TM)re getting into winter in a few months from now.âe

    âeoeWe need to go back to our communities. We need to talk to one another and we need to demand enough to live on, to eat and to pay the rent. We need to organize and mobilize. And shame on Miller or anyone who says that everything is OK.âe

    Krystalline Kraus

    krystalline kraus is an intrepid explorer and reporter from Toronto, Canada. A veteran activist and journalist for, she needs no aviator goggles, gas mask or red cape but proceeds fearlessly...