Notices for homeless shelter on Bayview get chilly reception from Leasiders


Over the weekend, signs on the vacant storefront at 1591 Bayview Ave. announced that the Jefferson Homeless Shelter would be opening in Leaside by November.

Image: Samantha Peksa

Residents of Leaside received a surprise this weekend when hoarding and notices went up at 1591 Bayview Ave. alerting the community to a homeless shelter that would be coming to the area near Bayview and Manor Road. What many did not know, was that it was all a fabrication and cameras were rolling. 

Notices attached to the hoarding that appeared Friday morning read: “As Toronto’s homeless population grows and winter approaches, we need additional temporary shelter for the homeless. Your neighbourhood has been selected as a home for a new shelter.”

The Jefferson Homeless Shelter, according to notices, would have 62 overnight accommodations; three daily meals on a first-come, first-served basis; a volunteer staff of three and would open November 1. 

The ruse, which was drummed up by the charitable organization Raising the Roof, was orchestrated to capture and film residents’ reactions to the news that a shelter would be moving into the largely affluent neighbourhood. 

The campaign, social experiment, or hoax — whatever you want to call it — was worked on in partnership with the advertising agency Leo Burnett Toronto and the production company Skin and Bones, who offered their services to the organization pro bono. 

Leasiders’ reactions were filmed and a short digital film made from the footage is set to be released on YouTube next week, prior to the federal election on October 19.  

“We wanted to do something at the community level that would get people talking about the issue of homelessness in their community,” said Caitlin Boros, marketing and communications manager for Raising the Roof.  

The hoarding and signs went up Friday morning, when Sal Badali and his son Steve opened the doors to Badali’s Fruit Market at 6:00 a.m. just next door at 1587 Bayview Ave. Their close proximity to the chosen site gave the two a great view of the commotion caused by the signage throughout the day.  

“Everybody went insane,” said Steve Badali. “There was a lot of shock, everybody was very surprised.”

According to the two, 15 to 20 people congregated outside of the storefront at a time. Many concerned customers commented on the news, and the reception was not good. 

“Two out of ten people that came in were for it, everyone else was against it,” said Badali. 

Among the concerns he heard voiced, safety was a big issue, as was transportation of those using the shelter. 

“I heard somebody say they weren’t going to be walking the streets after dark [if the shelter went in],” he said. “And a lot of merchants on the street were upset about it.”

Since NIMBYism (not in my backyard) is such a prevalent issue across Toronto, Boros said the organization wanted to pick a community where homelessness isn’t as visible or “publicly seen.” 

The large vacant storefront on Bayview Ave. gave them the opportunity to do just that, she said. 

But Carol Burtin Fripp of the Leaside Property Owner’s Association [LPOA] said there are better ways of promoting a good cause. In an email to Post City, Fripp relayed that the community group received a number of concerns from residents who have not yet realized it was a hoax. 

“I don't believe [residents’] reaction is an example of NIMBYism, but rather a response to the storefront appearing both suddenly and without any neighbourhood consultation,” she wrote.

According to Fripp, it was an example of a failed advertisement that has, as a result, alienated the organization from the community as many Leasiders have now said they won’t be supporting the charity in the future. 

But Boros said amongst the concerns, the organization has received some positive feedback. 

“It was in no way designed maliciously. It was designed as a thought provoking piece to get people to talk about it,” she said. 

On Saturday, another sign had appeared at the site that read:You told us you don’t want a shelter here. Neither do we. Support us in creating long-term solutions. Let’s end homelessness.”

“That was always a part of the execution, for it to come full circle,” said Boros. 

As of Monday morning, any evidence of the fictional shelter had been removed. 

“They did their research, they knew this community,” said Steve Badali. “Leaside is it’s own separate little bubble [...] and a lot of Toronto’s social issues aren’t seen here.”

“It was never our intent to freak people out,” said Boros. “We don’t want any more homeless shelters going up either. Our goal was just to get people talking."

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