Toronto Life has a short feature on Anthony Chelvanathan, creative director of Leo Burnett ad agency, in which the author, Courtney Shea, is permitted to touch the raiment of Mr. Chelvanathan. Nothing in this piece about fibbing. No, no. This is about the amusing prank Leo Burnett played. Ha ha ha. You see, Mr. Chalvanathan had this “insight” into how people talk about homelessness but don’t do anything about it. Well, that insight isn’t actually correct. People may not wish to have the homeless living next door to them but they do support and pay for a rather extensive City department of professional people which works with the homeless. Courtney does not ask the extraordinarily cool-looking Mr. Chelvanathan how he’s doing with his own face-to-face program with the homeless. Really well, no doubt. Sad that Courtney could not talk to the decent woman of modest means who lives over a store next to the fictional 62-bed shelter. She cried when she heard this would happen right beside her small flat which she pays for out of a taxed salary. Cried. That was what made the media laugh just so so hard.
The video produced and shot on Bayview Ave by Leo Burnett Advertising has been released on the website of the charity Raising the Roof. The deceptions used to obtain comments are revealing. The audio is all taken from phone recordings of people who were invited to “reach out” to the fictitious Jefferson Homeless Shelter with “questions, comments and concerns.” Callers were well primed for their calls with misinformation that a 62-bed shelter with a three person volunteer staff would be installed at 1591 Bayview. In the final decision-making by Leo Burnett, there may have been some concern by legal counsel about what was being done because the video carries a tiny-type advisory that “We’ve re-recorded and edited the messages to protect people’s’ privacy.” It isn’t too clear just what that means — are these the actual callers we are hearing?
MISSED THE MARK
There were cameras rolling from a high point on the west side of Bayview across the street and seemingly from a moving vehicle. There are eight clips. One man calls the homeless “drug addicts and drunks.” Others express concern about what the presence of such a hostel would do to business and property values. Councillor Jon Burnside says he thinks the effort “missed the mark.” He told CP24 that he did not think the hoax did anything to address the needs of the homeless. He questioned the claim by Raising the Roof that Leaside was picked at random. The charity however seems to firmly believe that its trickery is justified by the end. What was the purpose? Promotion of the charity? A spontaneous outpouring of interest in opening a shelter in neighborhoods across the country?
In South Bayview the hoax has broken a trust in many homes. These are neighborhoods of unparalleled generosity. Will ordinary property owners and business people everywhere find themselves comfortable with this standard? What other tricks might people with a certain zeal attempt? Public relations codes are replete with the insistence that members of the public be dealt with fairly and honestly. The advertising council proclaims Truth, Fairness, Accuracy. YouTube
That would be to tell the truth. Lying was considered an abuse of the public trust (and dishonest too) back in Journalism 1a6 and it still is. This week a lot of reporters seemed to think that lying to the public was just a lark. That’s when the charity Raising the Roof decided to dupe unsuspecting people on Bayview Ave in order to obtain just the right kind of responses for their project. What was that? Carolann Barr, executive director of Raising the Roof, calls it dispelling the myths about homelessness. Apparently it’s only possible to know authoritatively how misguided people are by lying to them. And what better place to do your lying than in that utterly misguided and uncaring place called Leaside. It makes it easier when fat cat writers purr correct responses. One scribbler snickered about Sleepy South Bayview being thrown into a state of hyper local hyperbole. Is that so? If Mr. Sleepy South Bayview had done what Raising the Roof did he would most likely now be unemployed. At Global News they ventured that Bayview Ave has been the scene of an “elaborate trick”. Actually, it was the scene of rank dishonesty not a surprise party. The further theme running through these stories was that some people don’t think enough about homelessness. Of course comfortable television and newspaper reporters are constantly reviewing what they can do for the homeless. It was all catch phrases. Myths needed to be dispelled, conversations kick-started and similar blather. Dispelling myths. Pinocchio should have tried that one.
The now rather notorious address of 1591 Bayview Ave. has a new message on the plywood hoarding It is signed by the charity Raising The Roof and it says:
You told us you don’t want a shelter here. Neither do we Support us in creating long-term solutions Let’s end homelessness.
This sign seems to be a form of peace-offering from the charity, and whoever else it employed, for staging the “homeless shelter” hoax on South Bayview residents and businesses last Friday. It may be a peace-offering but it is a quite underwhelming one. There is no expression of regret. Raising The Roof clings to a doubtful moral high ground that it agrees with the hapless people it duped.
Look, Raising The Roof has surely done good work and will do so again. We wish them well. But there has been a colossal failure of judgement which ought to be acknowledged. Beyond this, residents of South Bayview are not unfamiliar with the realities and human loss created by the so-called homeless. We say so-called because in this City, and right here on Bayview Ave., many of the homeless are homeless in name only. They are not without shelter — some are said to have owned property — but they prefer life on the street (or in the alleys). There is nothing good about this but it reveals a problem that is enormously more complicated than the building of shelters, as important as that may be There are said to be about 5,000 officially “homeless” people in Toronto. They are tracked as best they can be and receive attention from municipal Outreach workers. Angels, all of them.
Forty eight hours later, it is still difficult to imagine what they were thinking. Rent a building on Bayview Ave., put up a huge plywood hoarding and attach a plastic leaflet dispenser. Fill it with this.
As Toronto’s homeless population grows and winter approaches, we need additional temporary shelter for the homeless. Your neighborhood has been selected as a home for a new shelter. The Jefferson Homeless Shelter, Opening November 1, 2015, 1591 Bayview Ave (Bayview Ave and Manor Road E., 62 overnight accommodations, three daily meals on a first come, first served basis, volunteer staff of three. We understand you may have questions, comments or concerns. Please reach out to us at info@The JeffersonShleter.ca or 1-888-859-0185
To whomever wrote this calculated notice, it was (as we now know) an oh-so-clever means of getting the merchants and residents of South Bayview into the right frame of mind to blurt out suitable remarks for a commercial. The commercial was in aid of a local charity. There was no homeless shelter planned, just a filmmaker’s self-involved plotting to manipulate ordinary people for the purposes of a good video clip. The correct frame of mind for this act of God’s work? Horrified maybe or perhaps distraught. Maybe some people would cry. Ideally there would be palpable fear. Let’s be frank, no woman wants to walk past a 62 bed homeless shelter at night, even if it is managed by an alert staff of three volunteers.
The film maker certainly realized his goal of getting a reaction. Phone calls, mail and sidewalk runners carried the news that there was a homeless shelter coming to the street. At the BIA and in the offices of elected officials people laboured to try to understand how this could be happening. People on the street were aghast. One woman who lives over a store nearby threatened violence through her tears. About noon, another notice surfaced. It was intended for a smaller readership and it said that a film company would be making a commercial at this location.
A call to this firm elicited a sort of “Who Us?” reaction from the location manager. He was deeply upset that a story had been published in The South Bayview Bulldog calling the scheme a hoax. We had spilled the beans, ruined the value of a carefully prepared body of duped citizens for their unintended role in the commercial. Did we tell you there is a hole cut in the hoarding which looks suspiciously like a place to put a hidden camera? We did say that there is a certain kind of filmmaker self-involvement that raises their mission above the need for any concern for people or for honesty.
Please, said the location manager, take down that post. Just for a couple of days. Can you believe it? This foolish suggestion extended yet again the outlandish world in which these plotters were living. There were many outlandish things about this homeless shelter fib, even at first glance. How would the homeless get to Bayview Ave? We surmised they would need to be bused to the location Oh yes, said one film employee, that’s right. Talk about making it up as you go along. But remember, even though this scheme at first blush had several outlandish aspects, zealots are often both ridiculous and dead serious at the same time.
The filmmaker Skin and Bones has executed an elaborate hoax on area residents and Bayview Ave. merchants in which it purported to be an unknown private charity called the Jefferson Shelter. Notices outside the boarded up front of 1591 Bayview (most recently Sleep Country) said a 62-bed shelter would soon open at the location. Employees of the film company posing as workers of Jefferson, said that, yes, this was the plan. One of them, Angie, agreed with a suggestion that it would be necessary to bus the homeless to Bayview in order to find anyone to sleep in the beds. Skin and Bones will make a commercial at the site for the charity Raising the Roof. It appears that certain merchants may have been in on the hoax. But for large numbers of people it was a shocking development. The “Jefferson” outline said there would be three volunteer workers to look after the homeless. This astounding assertion caused some women to say they would not be walking alone at night on Bayview Ave.