He’s a familiar face to Ryerson University students and those who frequent the Yonge and Dundas area.
‘Jay’ as he’s known, can often be found holding the door open at the Tim Horton’s at Victoria and Dundas Streets. The area has also been his de facto home for the past decade. Jay’s sleeping bag and belongings are usually just steps away, spread across the sidewalk in front of the coffee shop.
Jay has been displaced by planter boxes, installed specifically for the purpose of encouraging him to move on to a more permanent home. The planters were brought in by the Downtown Yonge BIA. The association says it’s all part of an effort to help Jay.
“It’s not typically a BIA role or function,” admits Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director, Mark Garner. “We are what we call the convener of the neighbourhood, we’re the stewards of the neighbourhood. These are complicated issues and as a BIA we have to engage in some capacity to make these positive things for the community happen.”
Garner says dozens of people from the city’s Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral program have been working with Jay to get him the help he needs. Outreach workers and counsellors have offered Jay a housing unit, but say he has been hesitant to take them up on that offer.
The planters were installed to act as a deterrent and to help encourage Jay to move off the streets.
“This was an engagement with Jason to get him to accept housing and to get into the service and help that he needs,” said Garner. “If we don’t engage in this capacity, then this young man’s going to be dying on the street and we don’t want that to happen.”
But not everyone agrees with the BIA’s tactics.
“I think it would be a much better use of their time if they kind of used their power and political leverage to really get at the root of the issue,” said Craig Cook, an outreach worker with an organization called Sanctuary.
“We don’t have enough affordable housing in Toronto, it’s really essentially impossible to get housing if you’re on Ontario Works or ODSP” (Ontario Disability Support Program).
Garner is hopeful Jay will ultimately end up off the streets, where he can get the support he needs. He says the planter boxes will be removed once he’s settled into the available housing unit.