Homelessness is Not a Fashion Statement
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Homelessness is Not a Fashion Statement

It's tough to get past the blatant opportunism here.

Photo courtesy of Homeless Toronto's Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of Homeless Toronto’s Facebook page.

(Musical accompaniment to this post.)

Sigh. Another day, another step towards the complete decay of Toronto’s moral compass—this time courtesy of Homeless Toronto, a new clothing line that, depending on which way you look at it, is either trying to help the homeless by teasing them, or simply trying to make money by getting people to dress up like them.

We shouldn’t have to, but let’s lay out an assumption: when in irreconcilable doubt about the question, “Should I dress up like a homeless person today?” the answer is always no. Full stop, no wiggle room, plain old capital-N No.

That message, of course, is completely lost on the unfortunately-not-a-joke Homeless Toronto, a clothing line selling $135 acid-washed sweaters, $20 mugs with the words “change please,” and T-shirts with the slogan, “home less, explore more.”

(Obligatory note that homelessness is not a game of urban explorer.)

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“We kind of knew right off the bat that there would be a bit of controversy, just given the subject and the stigma around homelessness,” said owner Trevor Nicholls in an interview with the Toronto Star. “We do want to change people’s attitudes a little bit and change the overall feeling towards homeless.”

But in saying this, Nicholls misses the point. The outrage isn’t because of the stigma surrounding homelessness—it’s a direct result of his blatant opportunism that seeks to profit off the aesthetic of homelessness. People are upset because it’s a new level of cynical business sense that leads one to claim to be helping the homeless while selling ironically tattered sweaters at $135 a pop.

In the face of media backlash, Nicholls has tried to defend Homeless Toronto: “It was not our intent to offend or feel as though we were exploiting homelessness. Our brand is about giving back, being the grunge we are and wearing the style that we feel most comfortable,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “If you don’t like what we’re doing feel free to hate but go donate to one of the many amazing homeless initiatives.”

Nicholls claims that he is working with homelessness charities in Toronto, but there has yet to be any proof of that. One organization mentioned was Eva’s Initiatives for Homeless Youth. They say, however, that they have no partnership with Homeless Toronto. In a Facebook statement, they say that they “require that the products and their messaging reflect our goals to support the dignity and bright futures of youth experiencing homelessness.” They add: “We are not currently in a partnership with HOME LESS TORONTO.” [sic]

I don’t mean to suggest that Nicholls has malicious intentions, and the reality is that he probably does think that he’s helping. But he also seems completely unaware of the context: homeless people in Toronto are dying, and there are few people in power willing to help them rather than take a property tax cut.

The way Toronto treats its homeless is obscene. A $135 sweater made to look like one a homeless person might be wearing is obscene. A “change please” mug is obscene. A shirt that says “home less, explore more” is obscene.

The whole thing is obscene.