A new pop-up restaurant under Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway bills itself as a “completely luxurious dining experience,” but one anti-poverty group calls it “appalling.”
From now until May 2, Dinner With A View will seat diners under clear geodesic domes in Toronto’s Bentway for a novel dining experience in an “unexpected setting.”
At a cost of $149 to reserve a luxury dome and $99 per person for a meal prepared by Top Chef Season 4 winner Rene Rodriguez, the pop-up promises an indulgent evening out.
The problem? Dinner With A View is located one kilometre west of the site where the City of Toronto cleared two homeless encampments near Spadina Avenue in March, and steps from the Fort York Armoury, which advocacy groups have urged the city to turn into a homeless shelter.
In response to the pop-up’s launch on March 28, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) plans to host its own pop-up dinner event under the Bentway on April 5, called Dinner With A View...Of The Rich.
“I think we had the reaction a lot of people are having,” said Yogi Acharya, organizer with OCAP. “People are appalled, and we knew we had to do something about it.”
The group will offer a free three-course-meal prepared by volunteers that night and encourages those who attend to bring noisemakers. As of Thursday afternoon, close to 700 people had responded on Facebook that they planned to attend the event.
“We’re organizing this with short notice and it’s quite remarkable how much it’s grown,” Acharya said.
Use of the City’s emergency shelter system has been on the rise for several years, the result of increasing housing costs in Toronto and stagnant social assistance rates. But for some of the nearly 9,000 homeless people in Toronto, the city’s overcrowded shelters are chaotic places with little or no privacy, where personal belongings aren’t always safe and people risk exposure to drugs, bed bugs, lice and scabies.
For some, a tent outside, even in cold winter weather, feels like a better option. Others have been turned away from at-capacity shelters.
This winter, the city took measures to try to move some of the people living under the Gardiner Expressway, issuing eviction notices and bulldozing an encampment near Lakeshore Boulevard West and Lower Simcoe Street.
According to the Toronto Star, a city spokesperson said removing the camp was a matter of public safety, citing reports of a fire at one of the camps over the preceding weekend. But Acharya feels that for the city to do so and then issue a permit for a luxury dining experience nearby is cruel.
“Homeless people who have nowhere to live but under a highway are pushed out, while luxurious dining spectacles for the rich are granted permits,” he said. “This is a spectacle and part of the massive response to it is because it’s such a blatant example of the brutality of our city.”
Anti-poverty group ACORN Canada is not involved in the planning of OCAP’s April 5 event, but its housing spokesperson Alejandra Ruiz Bargas said ACORN supports the event.
“This is amazing,” Ruiz Bargas said. “We need to fight, we need to get together. We need to get united because unity is going to lead to change.”
Ruiz Bargas, who moved to Canada from Bogotá, Columbia, said the city’s lack of affordable housing and adequate shelters is beginning to remind her of the situation back home. Bogotá's 2011 census recorded 9,600 homeless people in the city, but an article in the Bogotá Post states people on the streets believe the actual number could be in the tens of thousands.
“What we see in these cities is that people are becoming afraid and angry,” Ruiz Bargas said. “And this is not good.”
The organizers of Dinner With A View did not respond to a request for an interview, but said in in a statement on April 3 that they are aware of OCAP’s intention to hold a counter-event.
“We are sympathetic to those impacted by the City’s actions and were in no way involved with the decision making process,” the statement reads.
“No encampments were removed to make way for Dinner With A View. To clarify, Dinner With A View is an independently organized event. Our venue, The Beltway (sic), is run by an independent charity and not an agency of the City of Toronto.”