What was supposed to be an Instagram-friendly spin on fine dining became a flash point on Friday between the city’s wealthier residents and its most vulnerable ones.
As diners tucked themselves into the domes and feasted on entrees infused with Mexican, Italian and French influences, a group of activists on the other side of a fence separating the pop-up from the rest of the world carried signs that read “Homes Not Domes” and “Evict the Rich,” while others played drums and other instruments.
An advocacy organization called the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty had called for the demonstration, which it labeled “Dinner With A View — of the Rich.” The coalition also provided a free three-course meal to contrast with the expensive cuisine at Dinner With A View.
According to the restaurant’s website, it costs $149 Canadian ($111 U.S.) to rent a terrarium, and there is a separate dinner reservation charge of $99 Canadian per person. Parties must include four to six people, meaning the least expensive possible experience costs about $550 Canadian — before taxes.
The coalition wanted to use the protest to draw attention to the larger issue of homelessness in Toronto, organizer Yogi Acharya told The Washington Post.
“Toronto, like most cities, is in the midst of a housing crisis,” Acharya said. “There are people who are homeless who have nowhere else to go but under a highway. The brazenness of putting on meals like that not far from where people were hungry and cold all winter was jarring, and we believed it demanded a protest.”
Dinner With A View is in the Bentway, a public space beneath the 11-mile highway that is run by an independent charity and has hosted community events such as art shows, public markets and more. It’s about a mile from the boundaries of one of the homeless encampments that city officials cleared.
In a statement about the protests posted on Instagram, the organizers of Dinner With A View said, “We are sympathetic to those impacted by the City’s actions and were in no way involved with the decision-making process.” They said they had worked with the Bentway, and not with city authorities, to open the pop-up, which runs until May 2.
The coalition’s main complaint was with the city and how it was addressing homelessness. Acharya said the organization would hold another demonstration on Friday outside Toronto’s Metro Hall to demand that the city preserve respite sites for homeless people, add beds to its shelter system and build affordable housing.
City spokesman Brad Ross disagreed with the coalition’s characterization of the city’s actions.
“We work every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to offer permanent housing, jobs, whatever we can to help people living on the street,” he told The Post. He said that officials had offered assistance and shelter to the homeless people evicted from the encampments but that some had chosen not to accept the offer.
Ross also said that one of the encampments under the Gardiner Expressway had experienced a fire in March, leading the city to clear other such sites for safety reasons.
Toronto, with a population of nearly 3 million, had an estimated 8,715 homeless people in April 2018, about 6 percent of whom were living outdoors, according to a city survey. The primary causes of homelessness are migration, the economy and the housing market, the city found.
Most of its shelters are at or near capacity, with the system at 92 percent of total capacity, according to recent city data. The average number of people using the shelters climbed from 4,366 in January 2017 to 6,820 in January 2019.
“People who are bearing the brunt of our housing crisis and are trying to survive there are pushed out,” Acharya said. “Meanwhile, luxurious dining spectacles for the wealthy are granted permits.”