WELCOME TO THE GHETTO

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By Dominique Blain

The day I moved to George Street, two men were having a shouting match over a woman.

One man ran over to my fence, ripped off a wood panel and proceeded to whack the other man across the head with it.

“Welcome to George Street,” said another woman enjoying the show from the sidelines. She laughed, I laughed, they fought, and I thought to myself, “Welcome to George Street, indeed.”

People say they live in the ghetto, but most don’t really live in the ghetto. At most, they have to walk through a dirty part of town to get home. I live in the ghetto.

By definition, a ghetto is determined by its inhabitants; people live here out of necessity, having been marginalized by society for political, racial or economic reasons, among others.

George Street is barely two blocks east of Pitman Hall. This two-block stretch is home to prostitutes and a legion of people ousted from the pages of Toronto and sent to its torn and tattered appendices. There are dozens of facilities for street people, including shelters, employment centres and soup kitchens.

These institutions are purposely established in this part of town to curtail the not-in-my-backyard attitudes of upscale Toronto. It should be noted that nearly all of the City of Toronto’s resources for the homeless are located in the quadrangle formed by Jarvis, Parliament, Carlton and Dundas streets.

Don’t be fooled by the city’s tactics: Homeless people are alive (and dying) mere blocks away from rez. Kenny lives in subsidized housing next door to me.

He’s been on and off the streets since moving from the Caribbean 10 years ago. He says he barely leaves George Street because parole conditions prevent him from leaving this part of town. He can’t even cross Jarvis Street to pick up food at Rabba’s Fine Foods. I like to think my apartment constitutes a ghetto within a ghetto.

I’m segregated within my own neighbourhood, but I’ll take it. I’m not going to lie–I have to force myself to remember that some of these people are people. The problem is, their drug- or Listerine-induced behaviour isn’t always consistent with that of, well, people. They all need help; I doubt most of them are getting it. In August, the only thing running higher than the mercury are the hormones of the 100-plus people who avoid the shelters and spend entire days lounging on my sidewalk.

But for the past few months, I’ve been living in a frozen, tamed-down version of George Street that has me expelling drinkers, smokers and sniffers from my cozy yard on a weekly basis.

Recently, when the mercury made it above 10C, I encountered a typically-clad prostitute stumbling out of my yard with a blank look on her face. A quick glance at the anonymous liquids and stains left behind were enough to convince me she was “entertaining” a gentleman caller.

Other typical artifacts I found that afternoon include: An emptied-out Bic pen (the better to sniff your drugs with, my dear), a few broken lighters (the better to melt or light your drugs with, my dear) and cheap makeup powder (the better to hide tracks and doped-up eyes, my dear).

And there was a new one that day-a frozen chicken breast (the better to have salmonella-induced hallucinations with, my dear?). I can’t keep up with this. Another summer on George Street could raise my mercury to violence. Anyone looking for a nice one-bedroom apartment for the summer? It’s real cheap and real close to Ryerson.

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