February 10, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 72  

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London looks at homeless

By Marshall Bellamy
Gazette Staff

While London’s homeless are being threatened by cuts at City Hall, the poor people of Toronto are getting hot potatoes in hot socks from a local charity.

The potatoes are baked and placed inside socks to be given to the city’s homeless, said Darryl Borden, director of homeless initiatives with Ve’ahavta, the Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee, the charity distributing the potatoes and socks. “So far the response out in the street has been great,” he said.

“It’s phenomenal. I’ve never seen a program take off like this,” Borden said, adding news services from as far as England have been calling for interviews, and cities across North America have expressed interest in starting a similar program.

So far, about 500 taters have been distributed over the last three weeks, he said, adding the number is expected to rise because the Prince Edward Island Potato Board will be donating 125,000 spuds to the cause.

London is also facing a difficult homelessness crisis, although according to Ward 6 councillor Dave Winninger, hot potatoes will not be a permanent solution, indicating a current initiative has police officers carrying blankets with them.

“We always need creative ideas when we’re budgeting,” he said. “I don’t know if the hot potatoes would be the solution today.”

Winninger explained there are many social programs which aid the homeless and poor in danger of being cut by City Hall in an effort to trim the books. “In a time of fiscal restraint — there’s always a temptation to cut the soft programs,” he added.

According to Winninger, programs being threatened include funds which pay rent and hydro bills if families cannot cover living expenses, and allowing people to stay in shelters for longer than the standard 42 days.

He pointed out a need for a balance in city budget spending. “We need to balance off social needs, economic needs and environmental needs,” he said. “It’s a triple bottom-line.”

“I guess it’s nice they’re giving something out — after all, they are homeless. It’s a smart way to keep warm,” noted first-year health sciences student Reerus Ravindran.

“That’s bullshit! In Calgary, we have pull-up showers and drop-in centres, so basically I think that’s not good enough,” said University of Lethbridge student Trish Briddemoham, who happened to be in The Spoke yesterday.



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