Street nurse raises valid questions about journalistic ethics in depicting images of homeless people.
By Kathy English for the Toronto Star
There is likely no one as qualified to speak to the matter of the dignity of Toronto’s homeless people as “street nurse” Cathy Crowe.
Crowe has worked with the homeless of Toronto for almost three decades. She is co-founder of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee that declared homelessness a national disaster in 1998. This longtime activist is the author of Dying for a Home and the subject of the documentary,Street Nurse, which explores the plight of the homeless. She is also a former recipient of the Atkinson Charitable Foundation’s Economic Justice Award.
Certainly, Crowe knows whereof she speaks. So when she emailed me this week to “protest” a photo published in the Star to accompany an Opinion article “Proper housing is a crucial health and wellness issue,” written by physicians Danyaal Raza and Ritika Goel, I took her concerns seriously.
The photo showed two men sprawled on the ground, seemingly asleep, outside a building at Bay and Front streets. Beside one of the young men, whose face is half visible, is an empty cup and a cardboard sign on which are scrawled the words “Anything helps, Thank you, Good Karma,” alongside a smiley face.
This photo was taken in 2014 as a “weather shot” during an early spring warm wave, but, as far as I can tell, was never published in the Star. It was selected for publication this week as a generic image of “homelessness” to illustrate the physicians’ op-ed arguing that secure and affordable housing is crucial to maintaining and improving health and well-being.
Crowe, who has made presentations to Star staff in the past about “the use of language and images that stereotype or encourage discrimination toward people who are homeless,” expressed much dismay about this photo, telling me this is not what she would have expected from the Toronto Star given its longtime commitment to social justice for all and the dignity of the disadvantaged.