CEOs for downtown hypocrisy?

Critics and advocates sound off on the controversial CEO Sleepout

Although 40 of Winnipeg’s top-ranked CEOs, including Stefano Grande (above), raised more than $100,000 during a recent publicity stunt by sleeping outside for a night, critics charge the event does little to address corporate tax cuts and social spending funding. Clayton Winter

“The BIZ doesn’t care about homeless people. They care about shopping.”

So states a pamphlet distributed by protesters at the Downtown Business Improvement Zone’s CEOs for Downtown Sleepout on Thursday, Sept. 29.

The sleepout was part of a campaign to raise awareness and funds for programs to get people off the streets and into permanent jobs. Forty Winnipeg CEOs pledged to spend a night sleeping on the streets in a bid to raise $100,000.

During the event, protestors swarmed the CEOs, handing out flyers and briefly gaining control of the microphone. Some dressed up as members of the Downtown Watch and told the CEOs to “move along,” to demonstrate how people who live on the streets are sometimes treated.

Owen Toews, a participant in the interruption of the event, said the government’s move to cut taxes for CEOs while simultaneously decreasing investments in social spending increases corporate profit while keeping people on the streets.

“The nature of this event was so obscene that it really did just prompt me to want to do something,” Toews said.

Instead of using events like the CEO Sleepout to raise money for a charity model that doesn’t work, more money should be invested in social programs, he said.

Tiffany Mamakeesic, who has spent time living in shelters, agreed with Toews’s criticism.

“Everything affects everything else. Most people on the street don’t have anything at all, and they’re taking more and more away from us,” she said.

However, Mamakeesic maintains the Downtown BIZ and Downtown Watch are still important.

“It’s hard because you do have to be tough with these people on the streets, but (they) have to be treated fairly, too. We hear more about complaints than we do about whoever’s being nice to somebody,” Mamakeesic said.

David Northcott, executive director of Winnipeg Harvest, said events like this are important because they get people talking to each other about the issues involved.

The issues go much further than people sleeping on the streets, he said.

“It’s good to get people involved but we can’t just stop at one baby step,” Northcott said.

Stefano Grande, executive director of the Downtown BIZ, said the protestors’ criticisms were misinformed.

“The people on the street have serious mental health issues. So blaming those ills on corporations and CEOs is not appropriate,” Grande said.

Grande insists the Downtown BIZ and the Downtown Watch treat people on the streets with respect.

“When these people are at the lowest point in their day, when they’re so intoxicated they’re on the verge of dying, or in a bus shelter at minus 30, about to freeze - we actually save lives,” Grande said

Published in Volume 66, Number 7 of The Uniter (October 12, 2011)

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