His hands and feet are black with dirt.
The eyes, in deep pockets, are bloodshot.
Voice hoarse as gravel.
It could all be the outward manifestation of decades of homelessness, occasionally, mostly on. From the past twelve years rough sleeping around Toronto. Spent the last two years mainly here, in Clarence Square Park, a patch of urban greenery along Spadina Avenue.
But especially from the more than two weeks Jordn Geldart-Hautala spent locked up in a wooden box less than two by two meters – presumably the last remaining “little house” built and scattered around the city’s homeless camps last year. by a Good Samaritan carpenter.
This one seems to have weathered the storms quite well, literally and figuratively.
It’s not much, but it is something† A visitor thinks, no one should live like this.
“This is day 17”, Geldart-Hautala announces when appearing.
During all this time, the 45-year-old Indigenous man — a member of the Sinixt Nation — has hated even stepping outside his tiny home. He was threatened with deportation by the Toronto Police Department, who attempted to serve Geldart-Hautala with an arrest warrant issued in Quebec. He was charged with obstruction of the police, as a result of an incident in 2017, and violation of the conditions.
He can’t wash, pees in a bottle and has barely eaten during that time to avoid having to empty his bowels.
Police have told him that no member of the public can give him food or water. The police cannot enter his hideout or drag him out. But they watch out when it shows up and can be served.
A short audio clip that Geldart-Hautala recorded on his phone when police first tried to turn him on was played at a media conference convened by homeless lawyers at 6 a.m. Wednesday — the hour they believed the police would return.
Although the sound quality is poor, one officer can be seen saying, “If he steps out and rushes back in, we can come in and take him.”
The officer continues, “We don’t see you in the coffin for six, seven, eight, nine days.”
Geldart-Hautala: “Oh, I am much more resourceful than you think.”
His defenders accuse the police of “harassing” Geldart-Hautala. It doesn’t sound like that to these ears, just a law enforcement officer speaking in a measured tone of the hardships Geldart-Hautala faced.
“Nobody’s going to bring him food,” the officer says.
“Why not?” Geldart-Hautala counters. “That is abuse of power. That is a cruel and unusual punishment.”
On Wednesday, girding themselves for the return of the police, other park residents moved their tents, half a dozen protectively surrounded the tiny house under a grove of trees.
Indeed, within half an hour two officers descend, warrant in hand. Seeing them approaching, Geldart-Hautala retreats inside, locking the door from the outside, and an activist maneuvers her scooter to prevent entry.
“From the way you block the door, I assume he’s in there,” one of the 52 Division officers says. “Jordn, we’re here for your transportation, according to your lawyer and your social worker. Are you willing to come out? Are you ready to go?”
The police are not aggressive in any way. But the claim that some sort of agreement was reached by Geldart-Hautala’s lawyer and social worker has been vehemently refuted.
The warrant has to go through the door and it’s not happening. The police leave after a few minutes. The supporters of Geldart-Hautala are cheering.
Not everyone in this part residential, part commercial district has a good-natured view of Geldart-Hautala or the encampment. Graffiti scribbled on park benches reads: “REPORT THIS SCUM” and “LOTS OF HOUSING AVAILABLE THEY JUST DON’T WANT TO GO” and “STOP FEEDING THE RATS.”
Somewhat nervously, Geldart-Hautala addresses his supporters.
“I stand for my country and my rights. I exercise my native rights. They can stand and leave.”
Doug Johnson Hatlem, a street pastor at Sanctuary Toronto, keeps the homeless homily centered on what he characterizes as a heartless city. “They say camping in parks is illegal and unsafe. But this isn’t about health and safety, this isn’t about legality, this is about making invisible the poverty problem that afflicts not only the 10,000 homeless in Toronto, but the general affordability problem across the country.”
The city spent $663.2 million last year on homeless people, shelters and outreach programs, and Streets To Homes.
Homeless people, Hatlem adds, who have died in canyons, on the subway, frozen in wilderness shelters, and killed in camp fires.
“Where are they allowed to sleep in this city if it’s not in parks? Where can you keep your most meager possessions? Nowhere, unless you’re out of sight, unless you’re where you can die and not be found for days.”
Geldart-Hautala recounts more pleasant times for his listeners as an unmarried person. “I used to make $25 a day, go back to my tent, smoke a few joints, then go to bed.”
How Geldart-Hautala got to this state of homelessness is difficult to piece together. He says he went home for Christmas dinner one night when he was 11 years old – in Alberta, where he was born – and was thrown out by his mother and her boyfriend. He talks about years of a nomadic existence in the west, living in a forest wigwam at some point in BC, venturing here and there, but rarely with a reliable roof over his head. The Why of his itinerant, marginalized existence is never explained. Maybe he can’t. But 30 years is really a long time.
Geldart-Hautala does not go to a shelter. “I’ve been attacked, robbed too many times in those places. I can’t cook my own food. The shelters are too crowded, too many bad things happen there, prostitution and drug trafficking, fights. You’re better off in jail.”
And he insists he won’t accept permanent social housing until “all my friends are housed, then I’ll eventually find my own.”
The 2,000 or so homeless people, he means, who float outside in Toronto every night.
But he has now made this situation unacceptable, due to alleged police harassment and his indigenous status. “I am locked up in my home, illegally locked up, practically abducted, and not allowed to touch Canadian soil, my ancestral territory.”
And he made a lawyer. Sima Atri, of the Community Justice Collective, sent a letter to the city Monday to protest the impending eviction and transportation of Geldart-Hautala to Quebec. It argues in part that evicting Geldart-Hautala and clearing his assets from the park “would be a violation of the Charter, the city’s common law duties and its rights as an indigenous person under the Human Rights Code.”
That is a dubious claim. Clarence Park is owned by the city, encampments are illegal and the indigenous status does not give any exceptional rights in this situation.
Last summer, amid the pandemic that drove countless homeless people from shelters for fear of contagion, more than 50 encampments sprung up around the city, nearly all of which have since been dismantled, sparking on one occasion a violent clash between police and activists. The city recently announced plans to hire private security guards to guard certain parks and prevent large encampments from taking root again.
Everyone has to be somewhere, take up space. But the parks are for communal enjoyment, not a de facto residence for the homeless. This is the friction facing countless cities.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Atri told the Star that charges against Geldart-Hautala in Quebec have been dropped and the warrant is no longer in effect.
He can come out now.
It’s a Pyrrhic victory because nothing else has changed. Still where it shouldn’t be, still subject to city parking waiver if and when it wants it.
So hold the huzzahs.