ROM puts spotlight on Toronto’s homeless

Karl Schmidt chatters excitedly as he describes what’s new in his life. Recently, he received the keys to his new home.

In his fifties, Schmidt has lived on the street for years, including two years in Tent City, the defunct shantytown erected along the shores of Lake Ontario in 1998. Schmidt is one of the lucky few to have received government assistance and now lives in a bungalow on Woodbine and Danforth.

“The reality of Tent City was good,” Schmidt said about the community’s location however, after receiving government housing far from the city his attitude changed.

“It was good that I got housing, but the place of the housing was not good. After three and half years the whole of downtown died to me, he said”

Yet for many of Tent City’s residents, the constant fear of eviction loomed. It’s a reality director Michael Connolly evokes in his documentary “Shelter From the Storm,” which follows the struggles of some residents of Tent City to remain on the land.

Shown as part of the Royal Ontario Museum’s informal panel discussion on homelessness in Toronto on Jan. 28, the film complements the ROM’s current street art exhibit, Housepaint, Phase 2: Shelter. Organizers hope the film and ongoing lecture series will raise public awareness and spark debate about the current homelessness crisis in Toronto.

In the film, Schmidt and other former Tent City residents discuss the relief they feel having a place they can call home. A group of city advocates and residents banded together to declare homelessness a crisis. That prompted the formation of Toronto Disaster Relief Committee to lobby for better housing on the industrial site.

“I wanted to show a wider picture of homelessness,” Connolly said. Connolly believes despite the progress little has changed for the homeless in the past six years since he produced the film.

“I’m disappointed that not more has been done,” he said about the government’s lack of response to the one per cent program implemented by the TDRC over a decade ago to resolve the homelessness crisis.

Connolly believes that advocates, such as Schmidt, have pressured the government to act.

“There’s some movement about housing at the federal level, but it’s still happening too slowly,” he said.

Schmidt agrees and his resentment rises as he discusses the lack of resources for those still reliant on shelters.

“Too much help that is given to the (homeless) gets spent on the way before it gets there,” Schmidt said. “The government is paying $85 per person in the shelter, but where is that money going?”

For more information about the exhibit please visit

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Posted: Feb 4 2009 9:11 am
Filed under: Arts & Life News