Stevie Cameron: street-side saviour of Canada's destitute - Canada

New Catholic Times, Oct 19, 2003

In a 12-block sub-section of Vancouver along the waterfront, there is a district filled with dilapidated pubs, gated storefronts and single-room-occupancy hotels. Here is the highest percentage of drug addicts, drug dealers, HIV cases, poverty, petty crime and street prostitution in Canada. More than 1,200 people have died from drug overdoses in the last decade. And since 1985, there have been more than 40 murders of prostitutes. Home is not always where the heart is for those with no fixed address.

Veteran reporter Stevie Cameron readdressed the country's homeless issue at a Trinity College Teach-in on Sept. 26. Five years ago, while editing Elm Street magazine, Cameron commissioned a story from writer Daniel Woods on the missing women of Vancouver's notorious Eastside. Woods' article would eventually spark public interest and a subsequent police investigation--one leading to the arrest of B.C. farmer, Robert Pickton, who was charged with at least 15 counts of murder. As a long-time resident of Vancouver and a University of British Columbia graduate, Cameron is now researching the Port Coquitlam murders for her new book tentatively called, The Pig Farm. The story about the 63 women from downtown Vancouver, will serve its a study of poverty, homelessness and addiction, as well as "the failure of the public systems to protect its victims."

Cameron, also an elder with St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Toronto, heads up the Out-of-the-Cold Program within that parish, which provides shelter and food to more than 300 men and women. In what she describes as the most "powerful experience" in her life, Cameron has stared the problems stemming from homelessness--drug and alcohol addiction, violence and abuse--straight in the face. The Out-of-the-Cold Program, which started in 1991, is just one of 60 projects set up for the poor in Canada.

The scene is like a lift from Dickens--bitter winds whip those trudging on, "heartsick and frail and frightened, finding the next place to eat and the next mattress on the floor." Whether seeking a single night's refuge in a noisy, over-crowded shelter, as depicted in one of Cameron's articles, or pawning off toiletries to 'motel no-tell' clerks for drugs, these are desperate people.

These conditions simply "stink," Cameron declared during her talk.

"I find that the people filling the gaps are the people of the church. Why? Because they have a kitchen and a ball," said Cameron, who is also a certified cook from Cordon Bleu in Paris. "When churches started feeding alcoholics, they stopped having seizures in the street."

In Toronto, where eviction rates soar, the housing crisis is most palpable. More than 60,000 people are without homes and as many as 1,000 sleep directly on the street every night. With 100 kids entering a swelling shelter system weekly, according to Cameron's published findings, it is estimated that 19 per cent of all youths will continue to subsist below the poverty line.

Born in Belleville, Ont., the 59-year-old investigative journalist and author began her career as the Toronto Star's food writer in 1977. During the 1980s, she covered political affairs for the Ottawa Citizen and commented for CBC radio and TV. Cameron would later write national columns for the Globe and Mail, and contribute as editor to Saturday Night Magazine and Maclean's, before becoming the editor-in-chief of Elm Street magazine. Her investigative work about the backrooms and boardrooms of corporate Canada, On The Take: Crime, Corruption and Greed in the Mulroney Years, also garnered the Book and Author of the Year award.

"There is a movement across the country to care for the poor that comes from the grass roots up and they don't know it, but they are getting political power," she said, also) acknowledging the so-called 'reactionary forces' in society--the less-than "progressive" support from the city's private sector.

Bay Street volunteerism, she maintained, is a drop in the pan. Turkeys and hams are sent out from corporate offices by limo to St. Andrew's Church, while the status quo is sustained. Nothing is ventured. Nothing is gained.

Toronto's solutions to homelessness are band-aids without greater help, Cameron once wrote in an December, 2000 Globe and Mail article. "Burned out and angry," some church volunteers have shut down their Out-of-the-Cold programs.

What people really need are homes of their own, according to Cameron. Portland Place, :mother non-profit project erected 10 years ago by the province, houses 60 people in 46 apartments in downtown Toronto. Such projects are concrete solutions for homelessness, she wrote. A step up from the curb, shelter or motel, Portland Place provides dignity, safety, privacy and self-reliance to those surviving 'off the grid.'

Cameron also highlighted the absence of the poverty and homelessness issue during Ontario's recent provincial election debate. She said it is about time the city's most influential people sit up and take notice.

"Our city is filthy :rod filled with sad, poor people."

The cold, hard facts


* 200-300 consistently sleep on the street

* 7,100 households are on a list for subsidized housing

* 46 people died on the streets last year due to accidents or health-related problems

* 4,300 people use shelters in Toronto--it costs $49 a night to shelter each person

Downtown Vancouver's East Side:

* 17,000 live in the street--90 per cent are single, 9,200 are on welfare, 11,000 live in single-room occupancy hotels

* 30 per cent of addicts are HIV positive

* 4 million needles are distributed in the area as part of a needle exchange program

* 50-60 organizations keep people fed in Canada

COPYRIGHT 2003 Catholic New Times, Inc. in association with The Gale Group and LookSmart.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

THE PIG FARM a work in progress for Knopf Canada

ELM STREET-Vancouver's Missing Prostitutes



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Updated: August 21, 2016