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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

The tragedy of Torontonian compassion

The National Post reports that Seaton House, a homeless shelter for men, provides free cigarettes and alcohol to the men they serve, sometimes as a bribe so that they may avail themselves of Seaton House's services. Former MP and mayoral candidate John Nunziata raised this issue last year during the campaign was criticized as an uncaring bigot. But feeding addictions can hardly be the way to help the homeless especially when Seaton Hall does not require the men they serve to attend addiction programs. It is bad enough to give a man a fish because it creates a dependency but giving a man a fish, a brew and a butt is indefensible and the kind of idea only a big-city city council could endorse.

Which, of course, it did. Toronto taxpayers, needless to say, fund the program. City council, the Post reported, voted 30-8 in favour of keeping the free wine program (which despite Rob Ford's protests that the men will get hammered having 12 drinks a day on an empty stomach, is actually supposed to limit their intake) and voted 29-9 for the free cigarettes (with anti-smoking zealots on council voting to keep the free butts). But when it came time to vote on requiring the commissioner of community and neighbourhood services to report to council on the provision of "alternatives to the distribution of cigarettes and alcohol at Seaton House" it barely passed (20-19). To put this plainly: Toronto city hall does not require responsibility to be taken by the homeless, those who provide services for them or city councillors. And while the city spends just $164,000 on the booze and butts program for this one shelter, this episode should be remembered by Queen's Park and Ottawa the next time Mayor David Miller goes hat in hand looking for mo' money.

Posted by Paul Tuns on April 27, 2004 | Permalink


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» Discuss! from The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century
I'm busy racing to get the Blogware manual done in time for the release, so my time for personal blogging is a little short. However, I'd like to point you out to a couple of discussions.

The Serious

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Tracked on 2004-04-28 11:23:00 AM


Yep, the irony of anti-smoking councillors promoting smoking is lost on these twits. The underlying message is, what? "Smoking kills, so let's kill off the homeless"??

With the money Toronto spends on homelessness each year, we could give each homeless person half a million bucks to get out of town. But I guess that's against the Charter, right?

Here's my naive solution: bring back the vagrancy laws.

Posted by: Kathy Shaidle | 2004-04-27 8:59:10 AM

Further to bring back the vagrancy laws, let's dump the charter. It's killing our legal system.

Posted by: Tim G | 2004-04-27 10:14:57 AM

Speaking as a recovered alkie (12 years sober, thanks), offering homeless people with alcohol addictions free booze is the stupidist thing I've ever heard of and should be considered tantamount to murder.

Posted by: Sean | 2004-04-27 10:59:04 AM

Is nobodu here "thinking outside the box"? Get yourselves some ratty clothing from Goodwill, line up at Seaton House, and stock your next wine and cheese party for free!

The booze-and-smokes handouts are idiotic, but I'm not quite ready to stop "giving a man a fish" just yet. If the food handouts are not the right way to handle it, what is? A handout quota -- "You get x meals and then you're on your own?" Workfare? If there's a measure that can be taken that emphasizes making these people self-sufficient without having to resort to "law of the jungle" cruelty, I'd be all for it.

Tim: What would you put in place of the Charter?

Posted by: Joey deVilla | 2004-04-27 11:03:45 AM

I'm with you Sean (and wonder if we have the same dry date...)

Joey: People in Toronto have been experimenting for a few years with more entreprenurial ideas. When I was at United Way, we helped fund about a dozen truly imaginative programs for people with the drive and intelligence to run their own businesses and co-ops (with lots of mentorship of course).

But there are many kinds of homeless people. Seaton House types would have a long way to go before getting to the point of being accepted into such programs, and sobriety would have to be a priority.

I think our money would be better spent on many more really inviting, in-patient detox centres. If people choose not to go to one, that would be their choice -- court ordered AA does NOT work in 99% of cases. But at least that would be a healthier alternative to feeding people free poison. For addicts at this stage of their lives (the Seaton House stage), that really is what it amounts to. It is as cruel and counter productive as treating diabetics with free sugar cubes!

Let's remember: people in the "homeless industry" have just as much self interest in the next person. After the idealism wears off, many are more concerned with keeping their jobs than solving the actual problem.

PS: I doubt we can dump the Charter, but it would be nice if somebody would add "property rights" to it at least.

Posted by: Kathy Shaidle | 2004-04-27 12:45:12 PM

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