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Temporary peace declared on tranny stroll

Rae opposes driving hookers from Homewood Ave

Residents living near Homewood Ave and Maitland St agreed to leave sex workers on the tranny stroll alone for at least three weeks on May 4 while outreach workers engage with the girls about respecting neighbourhood property.

Last summer residents of a group called the Homewood Maitland Safety Association (HMSA) launched a campaign of late-night demonstrations in an effort to drive sex workers away from the area. The demonstrations included picketing, photographing and videotaping johns and their licence plates and shining flashlights at the girls as they worked.

Some sex workers claim they were threatened with baseball bats and had eggs thrown at them.

HMSA members said they were reacting to an escalation of disturbances in the area including drug trafficking, noise and late-night fights — one time reportedly involving at least 30 girls — and drug use and sales.

Residents also reported finding dirty condoms on their front lawns, shit on their doorsteps and, as one resident reports, a “girl having sex with a john against my front door.”

This year as the warm weather set in and trade on the stroll picked up, residents took their fight to City Hall with a proposal to ban traffic turning onto Homewood Ave from Wellesley St between the hours of midnight and 5am. They hoped the move would discourage johns from driving into the neighbourhood, drive the sex workers away and thereby solve their problems.

It was just one idea discussed at a community meeting held at the 519 Community Centre on May 4. The meeting, called by Toronto city councillor Kyle Rae, drew nearly 40 people, mostly residents living near Homewood and Maitland.

“Johns are the food that feed the stroll,” said one resident. “If you remove the food, you’ve solved the problem.”

Another resident suggested installing bright lights, speed bumps and traffic cameras on Homewood. Others argued that controlling traffic would do nothing to deter johns from circling the block.

“If someone is willing to risk getting arrested for seeing a sex worker, do you think they’ll care about making an illegal left turn?” said one man.

Some argued that traffic signs would only move the problem elsewhere further south on Homewood, closer to Carlton St, where traffic can still access the stroll.

“We’re not dealing with traffic,” said one man. “We’re dealing with primal sexual desire.”

But community activists at the meeting said hostile demonstrations against sex workers in the neighbourhood would only make matters worse.

“If you treat people with hostility, they will be hostile in return,” said activist Gareth Henry.

Rae spoke against the traffic restrictions and against trying to force sex workers away. What needs to be addressed, he said, is the behavior of sex workers.

“I can’t legislate behaviour,” he said.

Residents agreed to cease the demonstrations to allow outreach workers to engage with the sex workers in a hostility-free way.

“It’s not about telling women how to behave,” said Kyle Scanlon, Trans Program coordinator for The 519. “The idea is to have a discussion [with sex workers on the street] about respecting space.”

In a phone interview on May 5 Scanlon told Xtra the outreach initiative would be a collaborative effort between The 519 and Griffin Centre, a mental health centre for youth and adults.

“We will back off,” said Michel Bencini, an HMSA member who lives at ground level on the stroll. However, he told Xtra later, “the onus is on [the sex workers] to behave.”

Scanlon reminded residents that finding a solution that everyone can live with will require participation from all parties involved.

“The 519 isn’t responsible for policing or controlling the area,” said Scanlon.

Rae said he would reconvene with residents in about a month.