Volume 93, Issue 70

Thursday, February 3, 1999


CAMPUS AND CULTURE

Squeeging out society's problems in Canada

Squeeging out society's problems in Canada



By Clare Elias
Gazette Staff

Squeegee kids are no longer able to wash car windows for a living due to the Ontario Safe Streets Act which took effect on Monday, banning all forms of aggressive panhandling across the province.

The main thrust behind the creation of the new law was to respond to complaints, especially in the Toronto area, about the conduct of squeegee kids. The Act exists to ensure better quality on the city streets and to avoid unpleasant occurrences.

While this legislation was a priority of the Tory government in their election platform, other alternatives could have been invested, said Rick Perley, director of the drop-in centre at the Youth Services Bureau in downtown Ottawa. The centre works closely with street youth, ensuring they are well-informed of the new law.

This situation was investigated a few years ago in the bureau's district and a code of conduct was created for the squeegee kids based on a meeting with the police.

"We found that to eradicate the situation wasn't realistic, so we decided to make creative solutions. The code is an informal protocol to assist the city. It was not made as a solution, but rather as a way of managing it," Perley explained.

The code outlined acceptable behaviour of squeegee kids, which was not to irritate the public, to ask permission before cleaning someone's windshield and limiting the youth to one or two per street corner. In essence, the code functioned as a quality control, Perley said.

He added the main contention held by the public are the actions of older squeegee people. "The youth squeegeers are all lumped into one group, but some squeegee people are in their 40s and 50s and people are less tolerant [of them]. People see the youth as needing a break to turn [their lives] around, but by the time they're in their 40s and 50s, they should be doing something different."

But for any age, Perley said the unemployed see squeeging as a means of gaining employment. He added the new law would crush their entrepreneurial spirit. "This isn't the same as begging, it is self-employment and they see it as providing a service."

Perley added most squeegeers make a good living and prefer this job to those offered by the bureau. "The youth street initiatives provide working opportunities such as moving furniture and removing posters. There are alternatives to squeeging, but most would rather non-traditional jobs."

However, if the law is effective, some squeegee kids might find themselves providing a different type of service, as they did prior to the business of squeeging becoming popular. "Most street kids were involved in street prostitution and this is probably what will happen again," said Clive Jones manager at Community Information Toronto. The service offers a street help line which is answered by former homeless people. Last January, the service received over 8,000 calls.

"Last year we received 45,000 calls and this number has doubled over the past three years," Jones explained.

Rose Cino, media relations manager for Covenant House in Toronto said their organization deals very little with squeegee kids. "We don't see that many that are squeeging. They're not interested in our structure. To stay here, you must be in school and we do have curfews," she said.

However, in terms of the Ontario Safe Streets Act, Cino said she did think it would improve the situation for shelters. "Toronto has some serious problems such as housing and unemployment. The average stay [at the house] is usually short term, but it's becoming longer because of fewer housing opportunities. There's a big thrust towards the shelter, but this is only a band-aid solution."

The majority of kids who stay at Covenant House are between the ages of 16-18 and are seeking refuge from abused and violent domestic situations, she said. Several of these individuals are able to find work with the job training skills offered by Covenant House, however with more government funding there would definitely be more success stories, she added.

"We offer school programs here which train the most disadvantaged youth who are missed by other training skills programs. The homeless youth are having difficulty even qualifying for the training skills programs. There are several who come out of this and finish their high school degree and even go onto community college."

Cino added the Covenant House is 75 per cent supported through private donations and it extends its arms to youth coming from every part of the country.

While such organizations are struggling to continue providing these services, the provincial government has not been ignorant of the homeless situation. "The [provincial] government is doing many things to address the funding of housing and unemployment," said Brendan Crowley, spokesperson for Jim Flaherty, the Ontario Attorney General. "Last year we spent $45 million on housing, [for] not-for-profit groups to prevent homelessness in the future."

The Ontario Safe Streets Act, which falls under the OAG's portfolio, is also in response to complaints made by tourists who claim they have been aggressively attacked, Crowley explained.

Suzanne Bezuk, a media relations representative for the Ministry of Community and Social Services said the provincial government spends $2 billion a year for provincial housing and community supports. "The money goes to on the job training for the youths and skills training programs, as well as apprenticeships."


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Copyright The Gazette 2000