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WARMINGTON: Living with an address under the Gardiner Expressway

It might be the best residential address in Toronto.

It’s certainly the best deal. This ground-level suite is steps away from Lake Ontario. To the north is the Rogers Centre and CN Tower.

And surrounding this abode are condo towers in every direction.

But Dave didn’t pay $600,000 to $2 million for this downtown privilege.

He didn’t pay anything at all.

“It all started with a tent,” said the 31-year-old, who, for the past few months, has called his little spot under the Gardiner Expressway home.

In the past two months, he transformed that tent into an outdoor-style, one-bedroom apartment that keeps the occupant from having to live at a homeless shelter.

“It keeps the wind off,” added Dave.

Dave is pictured under the Gardiner Expressway. (Stan Behal, Toronto Sun)

With the help of tarps, fencing, scrap metal and just about anything else he can find, his home next to the York St. off-ramp has become one of the very first things Americans driving in from Buffalo see in Toronto.

The problem is all they see is an eyesore: part scrapyard and part garbage dump. 

There are bike parts strewn around everywhere and radio components to go with some empty booze bottles.

“I know it looks bad, but it’s actually not all my stuff,” said Dave. “If the city brings down a container, I promise I will put it all neatly in a bin to be taken away.”

The city has actually already been there — and talked about throwing his structure away, too.

“It should go without saying that ensuring all Toronto residents are safe and have respite from extreme weather is a priority of the city’s,” said city spokesman Brad Ross. “Erecting tents and other structures on city property, however, is not permitted.

“As such, staff have given notice to those occupying tents and other structures on city property that they must vacate those spaces and remove all material within 14 days. At the same time, Streets-to-Homes staff are working with individuals to help them access shelter or other supports they may need.”’

Dave does not want to leave.

One of the problems is Dave says he has been recently diagnosed with lung cancer and just wants to keep things simple.

He said he was given an “eviction notice” but so far has not complied with it.

“I like where I am because it is safer for me,” he said. 

Although he admits he’s before the courts on an assault charge, Dave comes across as a gentle, friendly soul who is smart, kind and hospitable.

The story he tells is compelling, including being a father of five kids.

“They are all under five and with one woman,” he said. “She’s a good person. We are separated now and I go out and see the kids on the train once a week.”

His wife is in Durham where he grew up and he’s in the city trying to find a way to make money.

“That’s where there are the bike parts here,” he said. “I am building bikes from parts I find and am selling them to make some money.”

A carpenter by trade, he was also able to construct his makeshift shack equipped with a propane heater.

“It’s actually more of a shop, really,” he said. “I work on the bikes in here and I have a cot where I can sleep out of the cold, the wind and the snow and rain.”

Now I don’t know if any of what Dave told me is 100% true, but I admit it worked on me.

I went from considering that perhaps Mayor John Tory should use his tough-on-delivery-truck-drivers approach and ticket and evict this guy  to realizing that there’s a need for some out-of-the-box thinking and compassion.

There’s always a human side to consider. The zero tolerance approach — like kicking the cars off King St. in favour streetcars — should be applied to this shanty and the debris around it no question.

But an appropriate home of some kind should be found for Dave, too.

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