Homeless shelter hoax has Leaside residents upset

TORONTO – An empty storefront on Bayview Avenue was the site of an elaborate trick over the weekend.

Construction hoarding was put up along with a poster indicating it would be the future home for “The Jefferson Homeless Shelter,” which was to be opened at the end of November.

Those walking by, however, didn’t know it was a hoax. The set-up was actually part of an awareness campaign and they were being caught on camera.

“We’re calling it the homeless shelter installation,” Raising The Roof Executive Director Carolann Barr said.

“We kind of randomly picked a community in the Toronto area where there wasn’t a lot of visible homelessness.”

The intent was to kick start conversation about the issue of homelessness and affordable housing in the country before the election.

Story continues below advertisement

Reaction in the Leaside community was quick to come before the original sign was replaced with another saying, ‘You told us you don’t want a shelter here. Neither do we.’

“I feel totally violated,” a person going by the name Diana said online. “So they essentially made concerned citizens look really bad (i.e. NIMBY) by manipulating a situation and taking things way out of context to further their cause.”

“NIMBYISM at it’s finest,” another named ‘Jared’ responded. “Let’s all just act like homelessness isn’t a problem.”

The idea to capture people’s reaction with a fake shelter came from Leo Burnett, a PR agency, working with Raising The Roof on a pro-bono basis.

“We really want to push the envelope and we feel that this is a good way to do that,” Barr said.

“You always expect that people are going to share what their thoughts are especially when you’re dealing with the general public.”

As of 2013, it was estimated that approximately 5,000 people were homeless in Toronto.

Mayor John Tory, along with other mayors from across Canada, recently called for each of the federal parties to do more for affordable housing.

Others in the area near the storefront seemed to appreciate the message that others living on the street is an issue for everyone to think about.

Story continues below advertisement

“We’re going through many many changes,” Edith Molnar said.

“Just because the homes on the other side are $1-million-plus, we still have to accommodate the ones that are on the lower rungs of society.”

An awareness campaign involving the video that was shot with hidden cameras was released on Oct. 12.

Sponsored content