In My Opinion: Reality of playing politics rather than helping people shown on crowded TTC ride

Streetcars are shown on Main Street in this Beach Metro Community News file photo.

By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

I was standing inside a packed TTC 52A bus travelling west on Lawrence Avenue this past Saturday. It was a very cold evening. I don’t remember what the exact temperature was with wind chill, but I can say that waiting 30 minutes for the blue lights of that bus to finally appear was a harrowing experience.

A few stops into my ride and the bus was now even more full. As it pulled over to pick up the next batch of ice sculptures waiting for a ride home, one passenger standing in front of the door addressed the two ladies about to enter.

“There’s no more room!” she yelled.

Although a tight squeeze, there was definitely still room to fit more passengers on this bus. We all just had to move over a little bit.

Rightfully so, the two girls ignored the disgruntled passenger and entered the bus.

“Just don’t push me,” said the angry passenger. “I’ll push back.”

No one pushed her. I reckon she was just angry from the cold. It’ll do that to you.

But, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, she should be in office”.

If the recent mind-boggling voting results at Toronto City Hall were personified, it would be this lady. This was, to me, the exact type of character being displayed by the majority of Toronto councillors during the recent warming centre debates.

It seems as though they didn’t care about the wellbeing of residents because it made their job a little less convenient. “Who cares if it’s a refrigerator outside and people are losing limbs because they have nowhere to go? Let’s balance this budget so that I can return to my luxury condo.”

And then we wonder why there has been an increase in TTC crimes. It’s international news and I recently read a BBC article about the increased police presence on the TTC.

“Experts have said that it is difficult to say definitively what is behind this rise, as each violent incident is unique. But the difficulties following the COVID-19 pandemic may play a role,” read the article.

I’m no expert. But I can tell you, with confidence, that the economic turmoil Toronto finds itself in most definitely plays a major factor.

The pandemic flipped the city on its head and councillors are playing politics rather than taking care of the people most affected.

I often wonder what qualifies an individual needs to make decisions for the population of the entire city.

I see homeless people suffering every day. I doubt many of those tasked with governing the masses have ever involuntarily experienced a cold night outside. I can’t say this with certainty.

But it would be baffling to discover that a person who has ever experienced homelessness — or hardships at the deepest ends of life’s experiences — voted against any form of a helping hand towards the homeless.

I’ll tell councillors one thing. Once the cold coats your bones on a vicious night and one has no place to go, it’s naturally only a matter of time till the negative thoughts begin to creep in, leaving the gate wide open for blind rage.

As some councillors wrote in a recent letter to former mayor John Tory, an estimated 30 to 50 per cent of TTC Special Constable interactions involve passengers who are experiencing homelessness, have a mental health challenge, are in crisis, or are under the effects of an intoxicant.

Although this data is anecdotal, it should come as no surprise. As a person who rides the TTC every day, I’m shocked that this anecdotal data isn’t actually as high as 90 per cent because that, from the many incidents I’ve personally witnessed, would be far more accurate.

But it’s not just TTC. This is a general crime spike in Toronto that is a by-product of the current insecurities that accompany living here.

Toronto Police Service data shows a 17.2 per cent increase in overall major crimes in 2022. People are desperate. People are being driven to a point of anger that can be witnessed in the data.

I’m not particularly against increased policing on TTC as a result. If I had a daughter who uses transit on a daily basis, I’d breathe easier knowing that officers are deployed to ensure she arrives home safely.

What I do have a problem with, however, is making an effort to increase the safety of TTC passengers while ignoring tasks that can be done to address the root of the issue.

According to the latest National Rent Report, year over year, the average monthly rent in January for a one-bedroom in Toronto was up 20.8 per cent. Twenty point eight per cent! With rates like this, it makes sense that homeless shelters are overflowing which directly affects the increased TTC criminal incidents.

Furthermore, as the letter to Tory mentioned, officers have been witnessed kicking out homeless people sleeping inside city trains. This I’ve seen with my own eyes as well. Individuals who are just sleeping, disturbing no one, being woken up and kicked back out into the cold streets with no warm place to go.

What is the point of deploying officers to ensure the safety of passengers if the same officers are amplifying the anger and animosity in these people experiencing homelessness which leads them to act irrationally? The circle of life, I suppose.

Now, I get it. Governing a city like Toronto is complicated and councillors by no means have an easy job. It’s impossible to keep everyone happy. Most CEOs will tell you that you have to be cut-throat to run a successful business. And a city is just that, a business.

So perhaps I’ll speak from a business perspective. What good is it to invest money into solving an issue if the perceived solution, by itself, is actually adding to the initial problem?

Maybe running a city shouldn’t just be a business.

Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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