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Leaside could use more homeless ruse creativity

Raising the Roof, a national charity dedicated to finding long-term solutions to homelessness, recently raised the ire of Leaside residents by executing arguably one of the most creative marketing campaigns by a GTA nonprofit in many years. It was designed to put the spotlight on homelessness.

Businesses in Leaside might want to duplicate the efforts of Raising the Roof and Leo Burnett, their pro bono advertising partner.

“In the week leading up to people making their decision [federal election], we wanted to make sure homelessness and housing is top of mind,” said Caitlin Boros, marketing and communications coordinator for Raising the Roof. “It was very immediate [the reaction]. People were stopped by it right away.”

In today’s era of increasingly short attention spans the charity was able to cut through the noise of 24/7 media. Virtually every media outlet in Toronto, whether we’re talking TV, radio or print including Marketing magazine, covered the hoax which started with the charity putting up a sign in front of the old Sleep Country location on Bayview announcing the Jefferson Homeless Shelter was opening Nov. 30.

Of course we now know it was all a big ruse.

Raising the Roof filmed the interaction with local residents turning the footage into a YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vH3ILFaG_Lw) that was released on Thanksgiving Day. Appropriate.

Representatives from the charity claim that Leaside wasn’t chosen because it was an affluent neighbourhood but rather because it has vacant storefronts  (not a good quality for any retail business area) and doesn’t have the same homelessness situation as exists downtown.

The Toronto Star ran an article about the homeless shelter that contained hundreds of comments, most making it pretty clear that a significant portion of Torontonians don’t feel sorry for the plight of Leasiders, many of whom were distressed by the initiative.

Our community has gained a bit of a reputation for Nimbyism. And as anyone knows a reputation is gained far easier than it is lost. Those residents who felt either violated or deceived or were concerned about falling real estate prices in the area as a result of a homeless shelter might want to reconsider their priorities.

Homeless people have to live somewhere. Why not Leaside?

Raising the Roof did what any good organization would do to garner new support for its business or cause. I think it should be commended, not vilified.

It was a call to action, one Bill Veeck, the master baseball promoter, would have wholeheartedly endorsed.

Leaside businesses take note.

The kind of outside-the-box thinking exemplified by Raising the Roof’s Jefferson Homeless Shelter initiative, while controversial, is exactly what struggling retailers in the area need to do to compete in a big-box era.

Do what Raising the Roof did: Get noticed.