News / Toronto

Fake homeless shelter pops up in affluent Toronto neighbourhood leaving residents in tears

Residents were caught on a hidden camera as part of a stunt to raise awareness about homelessness.

This photo was posted to the website, which was set up to look like it was for a real homeless shelter.

This photo was posted to the website, which was set up to look like it was for a real homeless shelter.

When a notice went up in a wealthy Toronto neighbourhood announcing a homeless shelter would be opening there soon, it upset some local residents so much they cried.

And that was before they learned it was a hidden-camera stunt, set up to publicize the issue of homeless ahead of Election Day.

On Friday, Leaside residents woke up to find a former Sleep Country store on Bayview Avenue covered in construction hoarding. On it, there was a sign announcing the privately-funded Jefferson Homeless Shelter would open on Nov. 1, offering 62 beds and hot meals, run by a volunteer staff of three.

A hole in the in wood siding concealed a hidden camera.

Residents noticed the sign immediately, said Ted Stuebing, who runs the community news outlet The South Bayview Bulldog. Many contacted him and their local councillor with concerns.

“People were very upset, people were crying,” he said.

Stuebing went by the area and spoke with a young lady, who claimed she worked for the shelter. When he told her he didn’t think there were 62 homeless people in the neighbourhood to fill the beds, she said the shelter would bus them in.

That sounds outlandish, but outlandish things do happen, so that doesn’t mean it wasn’t true, he said.

But it wasn’t. On Saturday, a different notice went up.

“You told us you don’t want a shelter here. Neither do we. Support us in creating long-term solutions. Let’s end homelessness,” it said, and gave a link to Raising the Roof’s website.

Advertising agency Leo Burnett is doing some pro-bono work for the charity to dispel common myths and misconceptions around homelessness, said charity director Carolann Barr.

Several cameras hidden around the area captured residents’ reactions to the idea of a having a homeless shelter nearly in their backyards and those reactions will be used in a film that will be released on Oct 12.

“The purpose of that is to release it just before the election, to get voters to really think about homelessness and what their local leaders and federal leaders are doing about that issue,” Barr said.

Residents’ faces will be blurred, she said.

Stuebing said he believes the stunt went off just as planned, eliciting the reactions that the directors hoped for, but it left residents feeling deceived. 

As for those who were upset at the idea of homeless people in their neighbourhood, Barr said they hope they learn from the experience that anyone can become homeless in their lives due to circumstance and they shouldn’t fear homeless people.

“I hope they investigate the issue more and realize we all have a role in helping the vulnerable in our society,” she said. 

This isn't the charity's first campaign. Raising the Roof is also behind a campaign where real homeless people read out mean tweets about homelessness.

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