As early as 1996, makeshift housing emerged on the 24-acre plot of prime real estate at the base of Parliament Street in downtown Toronto. By 2001, with rental rates soaring, the closure of downtown shelters, and a highly visible homeless population on the streets, the number of permanent residents of Tent City had swelled to about 120 people, sometimes reaching more than 200. For the homeless, Tent City was a warm refuge from a social system bursting at the seams, and a good alternative to living on the streets.
On September 24, 2002, without warning, the residents of Tent City were forcibly evicted by the City of Toronto and Home Depot. Ground contamination and fire risk were cited as the primary reasons. Many believe that sensationalized media reports about Tent City had become an embarrassment to “Toronto the Good.” In the land of plenty, Tent City had become a symbol of failure and unwillingness to address dire poverty.
A hard-packed gravel bed is all that remains of Tent City today. But since its demise, there has been positive change. News coverage of the Tent City evictions outraged citizens and led to efforts by activist groups, community caregivers and the City to better address housing and homelessness. New housing policies have since been established with some success. Yet homelessness in Toronto remains a salient issue. The story of Tent City is a one of urban poverty, with echoes all across the world.
'Subtext: real stories' by Eric Weissman
Subtext is a rough-cut documentary exploration. It explores an urban shantytown and the strides of activists, ex-residents, and the City of Toronto to find solutions to homelessness. Its focus is the residents of Tent City. The subjects dictate where cameras go, leading us into their pasts, conflicts, and daily lives -- by road and foot through the urban landscape. We examine caves on the Don River, squats under the highway, trips to the hospital, and abandoned buildings, but our journey always leads back to Tent City … to a thorough, often surprising understanding of the people who lived there.
Subtext: real stories
© Eric Weissman – 2008