Over the last 18 months, except for a clutch of subzero nights spent in church basements or emergency shelters, Paul has lived in a postage stamp of a park tucked behind a group of highrises in downtown Toronto. During his first year on the streets he survived by panhandling. For the past six months he has put money in his pocket selling The Outrider, Ontario’s original weekly newspaper put together by volunteers and sold by the homeless and destitute. From his regular spot, directly across from the Citytv building on trendy Queen Street West, Paul, who says he doesn’t collect social assistance, manages to earn $100 to $400 a week, depending on the weather. Pleasant weather brings out more pedestrian traffic and increases his sales; snow or rain can ruin his day.
In another life, Paul says, before the street, “I was a pig farmer, so I’m used to being poor.” He has also worked as a machinist, in construction and carpentry, and as a high-rise window washer. He looks to be in his forties, is five foot nine and carries 180 pounds on his very solid frame. He has the rugged, weathered good looks of someone used to working out-of-doors. He says he doesn’t drink or use drugs, and his exceptionally clear blue eyes support that assertion. He is intelligent, engaging, presents an aura of self-confidence and discusses news and current affairs in an articulate and informed manner. Yet, despite his attributes and experience, he cannot find regular full-time work.
Paul is not unique. According to a Metropolitan Toronto Community Services Department report, in 1992, 27,216 different individuals were admitted to one of the 3,000 beds offered by the hostel division. And in February 1994 George Chester, the co-ordinator of a church program called Out of the Cold- which offers food and shelter to the needy-told The Globe and Mail that there may be as many as 47,500 homeless in the city. Keeping track of the number of homeless in any given urban centre can be a difficult task. Those who don’t use government-sponsored shelters and do not collect social assistance don’t get counted. And there is also a large group of uncounted out there who barely survive in single room occupancy hotels or rooming houses and are constantly moving in and out of the swelling ranks of the street. While there may be some fuzziness surrounding the actual figures, all involved agree that the problem is growing: the number of people describing themselves as transients upon admission to Toronto hostels doubled between 1988 and 1992 and continues to grow. And, according to Metro hostel services director John Jagt, over the last five years Toronto has experienced a 40 percent increase in homelessness. Of that growing number, at any given time about 150 individuals sell homeless newspapers on the streets of Toronto.
The reduction of government money being directed toward the poor presents an obvious need to creatively address the growing problem of homelessness, and so the intrinsic worthiness of enterprises like The Outrider is beyond question. But something has gone very wrong with the execution of the homeless paper concept in Toronto. Operational mismanagement, a thinly veiled culture of violence and a very public father-son feud have permanently driven the best volunteers and employees away from these enterprises, and have led to a steady erosion of public acceptance. the future of the homeless newspaper in Toronto, it seems, is in jeopardy.
Newspapers intended to create employment for the homeless and needy are not new. They exist in major urban centres like Paris, New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Vancouver. In London one such publication, The Big Issue, claims a weekly circulation of over 200,000 and has been providing employment for up to 800 street vendors at a time for more than three years. It is sold to vendors for 25 pence, and they sell it on the street for 60 pence, pocketing the difference. Saddle-stitched and printed on quality newsprint, The Big Issue averages 44 pages and has taken on the look of a mainstream consumer magazine. The Christmas 1994 issue was a record 80 pages.
Along with news, the arts, feature-length stories, regular vendor profiles and classifieds, the magazine runs sections called Capital Lights, which offers “informed insights” into the plight of the homeless and marginalized, and Missing, which searches for four missing people weekly and offers a toll-free telephone service to help street people keep track of each other. The magazine sponsors retraining programs, provides drug-, alcohol-, and general-counselling referrals, offers an employment advisory service and has established a housing and resettlement unit. The Big Issue has attracted a number of established writers and artists, and has won mainstream acceptance. In 1993, editor A. John Bird was voted Editor’s Editor of the Year, and the magazine was a runner-up in a national competition for the best medium of the year. About the same time that Bird was being honoured by his contemporaries, Jim Mackin was busy launching Ontario’s first homeless paper.
After seeing a television documentary about the London paper, Mackin decided Toronto could use something like The Big Issue. Without money or newspaper experience, Mackin, a retired high-school teacher who had declared personal bankruptcy in 1990 as a direct result of the failure of the private computer school he founded in Pickering in 1979, set out to create The Outrider. He posted Help Wanted notices on telephone poles and light standards around the University of Toronto campus, advertising for an editor. That ad caught the attention of Jack Mersereau, an unemployed young man with some computer and graphics experience. He met with Mackin and discussed the concept of a paper aimed at helping panhandlers earn money and build self-esteem. While he was hoping to find a paying job, the thought of helping the needy help themselves appealed to Mersereau’s natural altruism, and by the end of the meeting he agreed to volunteer his time and energy full-time to help get the paper launched.
The two, using Mackin’s kitchen as an office, laid out the premier issue. The Outrider hit the street in July 1993, proclaiming in a front-page headline “We Are New-We Are You.” The first editorial offered the definition of an outrider as “the person whose task is to determine the direction of a group, by way of scoping opportunities or dangers.” It also explained that “The Outrider is a newspaper which is committed to leading its readers into careful consideration of the news and issues of our times.” Its mandate is to provide an informational forum which is non-discriminatory and therefore, socially unifying….Besides the unique narratorial stance, The Outrider is also a project designed to create work in Toronto and surrounding areas. The Outrider is distributed by the Homeless and Needy who, in turn, profit from their enterprising, and get off the streets. We, at The Outrider, wish to create a relationship between all social groups which is positive and fruitful.”
That first issue, an eight-page black-and-white tabloid, was an uneven collection of movie, music and restaurant reviews, news, “narratorial,” essays and humour. While the content didn’t really reflect the issues of poverty and homelessness, the paper attracted volunteers concerned about the plight of Toronto’s poor. A few weeks after the first issue, retired Toronto Star senior editor and ombudsman Rod Goodman, a regular volunteer at the Daily Bread Food Bank, sought out Mackin and offered his services free of charge. Goodman brought his wife, Jan, a senior copy editor with The Globe and Mail, along with him and set out to recruit volunteer writers, editors and designers. With Goodman as editor, Mersereau took on the unpaid position of associate publisher.
Under Goodman’s guidance the paper grew to 12 pages, colour appeared in the banner and the paper gained a reputation as a place to find quirky news stories and offbeat features. The volunteer pool grew. Jack Granek, who had worked with Goodman at the Star, started writing a column called News from Here, There, Everywhere, a collection of odd quick hits from around the world. Chris Simpson, who had worked in advertising, started writing a humorous column called Ad Nauseam. Centennial College began placing co-op students with the paper, and in January 1994, 26-year-old journalism student David Paddon, who was working at a marketing firm to finance his education, joined the growing staff. He served as assignment editor, but also applied his marketing know-how to the operation.
Among his many contributions, Paddon, along with some other Outrider volunteers, crafted $98,000 jobs-Ontario grant application that was approved in December 1994. “The Outrider’s vision,” according to the application, “is a society without homeless or destitute.” The paper would be a vehicle for job creation, a means of fostering dignity among the poor and a tool to help integrate the disparate communities of Toronto. These lofty ideals were well received by the media.
In the early days of The Outrider, the paper garnered considerable attention. Citytv, Cilobat, CBC (both television and radio), CTV, The Globe and Mail,The Toronto Star and The Toronto Sun all provided, as expressed in an Outrider brochure, “overwhelmingly positive coverage. From day one the media community jumped in to familiarize Canadians with our cause.” It was through a Star profile of The Outrider in August 1993 that David Mackin became reacquainted with his father.
After the story appeared, David, who hadn’t seen his father in nearly a year, showed up at The Outrider. Jim and David Mackin have had a rocky relationship. David was 11 years old when Jim moved from the family home, leaving David, his brother, sister, and mother without financial or emotional support. Despite their turbulent history, David hoped that the two, by working together on The Outrider, could somehow reconcile. He gave his father $5,000 to finish and equip the paper’s office, and set about recruiting vendors.
David felt that his investment made him a partner in the venture. Jim saw things differently. He says the money was a repayment of $2,000 David had stolen from him some years before. The rest, asserts Jim, was a straightforward business loan. David admits that he did steal money from his father, but disagrees with his father’s belief that the money is still owing, insisting, “I stole off him about 10 years ago, I stole a couple of grand … but in the meantime I gave him a car and a printer. He says I owe him? Jesus Christ!” That at least some of the $5,000 was originally a loan is no longer an issue to Jim: “If David wants the money back, he’ll have to go through court channels to get it.”
David’s involvement with The Outrider ended as suddenly as it began. As the junior Mackin told Toronto Life’s Robert Hough, after a couple of weeks at the paper Jim said, “It’s not workin’ out between the two of us, so why don’tcha leave?” Once again David and Jim parted on bitter terms.
Instead of returning full-time to his work as a landscaper, David decided to set himself up in direct competition with his father. The next time Jim heard of his son was in October 1993, when he learned David had launched Toronto’s second homeless paper. The younger Mackin called his enterprise The Outreach Connection.
When The Outrider was the sole homeless newspaper in the city, Jim Mackin charged the vendors 40 cents a copy. They, in turn, sold the paper for $1. When David Mackin opened The Outreach Connection he also set a cover price of $ 1, but sold the paper for 25 cents per copy, thus luring away many of his father’s sellers. Jack Mersereau says The Outrider took a financial beating as a result.
The first issue of The Outreach Connection, an eight-page black-and-white tabloid nearly identical to early editions of The Outrider, contained a letter from the publisher. David Mackin’s letter outlined goals very similar to those of his father’s paper. The Outreach Connection would offer dignity to panhandlers, help put an end to homelessness and give distributors warm meals. David’s earliest issues lacked editorial focus. He relied on volunteer writers, and published whatever he could get, including features ranging from a rambling look at the collapse of the Soviet Union to an utterly bizarre advice column called Dear Prudence.
Despite his originally pious declaration of Outreach Connection principles, David later told Enzo Di Matteo of Toronto’s Now magazine the real reason he had launched his paper was to get at his father: “I started it out of total anger as well as helping the poor. I just wanted to go after him and stab him in the guts.”
Jim says he’s not surprised by David’s actions, but insists there was never a father and son partnership. “David has no morals and doesn’t possess the intellect to run such an operation,” he says. Jim also suggested that David was reacting out of a deep-seated sense of anger. “He felt rejected 20 years ago when I divorced his mother, and he felt rejected again when I wouldn’t give him a piece of The Outrider.”
While Jim may not have wanted to go into business with his son, he was most certainty interested in keeping his son out of the business. In October ’93, when Jim heard that David had neglected to register The Outreach Connection’s name, he sent Jack Mersereau out to claim it before David got around to it. Jim explained that he wanted the name as a form of insurance: “If this young man ever got to the point where he was making any kind of money he’d be suable on many reasons.” Jim’s plan hit a snag when his registration of the name was cancelled by the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations a few days later. It seems most likely that the $60 cheque for the registration fee bounced. That November, David registered the name for himself,
The Outreach Connection managed to hang on and grow. In January 1994, Patrick White, a self-described prairie businessman from Allan, Saskatchewan, began working as The Outreach Connection’s business manager. He helped the paper expand to 12 pages, hired an editor and a bookkeeper, brought in a Centennial College journalism co-op student and put colour into the paper’s banner. The editor, Massimo Commanducci, a recent Ryerson journalism school graduate who had worked at Canadian Press and had interned at Harper’s, started narrowing the paper’s focus to issues of poverty and social welfare, and by the spring of 1994 David Mackin had positioned The Outreach Connection as a serious rival to his father’s publication. After adding a sports page, a movie column and a crossword puzzle, David became confident that his paper would soon eclipse his father’s.
David Mackin’s bubble burst in April 1994 when it became evident that Patrick White wasn’t the saviour Mackin took him to be. On April 4, White didn’t show up at the office. At first Commanducci worried that White, who claimed to have had a heart attack while living in Saskatchewan and who regularly showed staffers a scar left on his chest after bypass surgery, might have suffered a second heart attack. But as a growing number of creditors showed up or phoned complaining about bounced postdated cheques White had issued, Commanducci began to fear that they had been conned. By the end of the day they realized that White had bilked the paper of close to $18,000. To date, White, who police believe worked the con alone, has not been apprehended.
Jim Mackin, sensing victory over his son, stepped up the campaign of harassing phone calls he had been waging since David had founded The Outreach Connection. Staff at The Outrider had heard stories about, Jim’s telephone antics, and one night in early May Outrider volunteer David Paddon received a phone call that confirmed the rumour. Paddon’s phone rang at about l1 o’clock that night. He picked up the receiver, and before he could utter a word, the voice on the other end of the line started yelling, “You’re goin’ down-you and your paper are goin’ down!” Paddon recognized the voice as Jim Mackin’s, and when there came a lull in the yelling, he said, “Jim, this is David Paddon, not David Mackin.” After a brief pause Jim Mackin said, “Oh,” and hung up.
It was not unusual for Jim to leave 20 belligerent messages on David’s answering machine in the space of an evening. Last summer David took one such answering-machine tape to his local police station, and, according to his mother, had a peace bond issued against his father. Not to be outdone, a few months later Jim convinced a justice of the peace to lay assault charges against his son.
The very public father-son feud made the front page of The Outreach Connection last August 3. Mackin Pere, David wrote, wrought “tremendous violence in my home …. My older brother got a broken nose too …. I vividly remember my father coming home drunk in an ugly rage.” David’s mother, Marina, adds that during her marriage to Jim she received frequent hearings from her husband. In a phone interview David expanded on the story, stating: “I was so afraid of my father that I would piss myself when I saw him. He’d come in drunk and I’d piss myself out of sheer fear. You just don’t realize how evil that son of a bitch is.”
One day in July 1994, when the jobsOntario grant to The Outrider seemed to be a sure thing, Jim flagged David down on the street and, referring to the cost-per-paper charged to the vendors, asked, “How are you gonna compete when I go to a nickel?” That barb sent David flying down to the grant office. “We went there and we just told them the way it was. I said to the grant people, ‘This bastard is gonna use your money to put me outta fuckin’ business.”‘ For a while it seemed that David’s visit to the office had derailed the application, but by December jobsOntario had decided to give The Outrider $98,000.
As the feud escalated, the positive media coverage of Toronto’s homeless papers evaporated. And by the spring of 1994, when the general media reported that David Mackin’s Outreach Connection had been pushed to the brink of collapse by the actions of office manager Patrick White, the honeymoon was over. (A thorough treatment of the Patrick White saga, written by Robert Hough, appeared in the November ’94 issue of Toronto Life.) A side effect of the White affair was a series of rumours that grew from the theft. Paper vendors were quick to offer various and conflicting theories to just about anyone who asked: David Mackin and Patrick White were in on the scam together said one; the whole thing had been cooked up by David and his father to solicit public sympathy and generate greater circulation revenues claimed another; Patrick White had really been an agent for Jim Mackin in an elaborate plot to put The Outreach Connection out of business maintained a third. The most bizarre of the stories suggested that all three were in on the theft together and had used the money to set up a third paper in Halifax. While none of the turnouts proved true, they further damaged the credibility of all concerned.
Mixed in with the various rumours is the persistent story that the Mackins tend to solve some of their problems violently. Both, as part of a strategy of delving deep into enemy territory, would send vendors to sell in areas considered to be the other’s domain. David, who is six foot three and weighs over 300 pounds, would respond by trying to persuade competing vendors to stop selling The Outrider and commence selling The Outreach Connection. But David, who happens to have a slight hearing impairment, which he compensates for by talking loudly and leaning into the personal space of whomever he is speaking with, tends to alienate those he is trying to win over. With his close-cropped hair, booming voice and tendency to use “fuck” as noun, verb, adverb and punctuation, he seems better suited to a WWF cage match than a newspaper war.
For his part, Jim Mackin employed a fellow named Wayne McKenna, who showed up on The Outrider masthead as a distribution manager for May, June and July 1994. Mackin disregarded numerous reports that McKenna was getting tough with vendors who were threatening to sell for the competition. Chris Simpson, the assignment editor, described McKenna as “a real loose cannon. Despite the complaints, Jim kept him around for the longest time. I think he was muscle for him.” Mackin acknowledges that McKenna was a “bullyboy,” but says, “I had him on the masthead for an issue or two, then I took him off-I said, ‘Wayne, this isn’t workin’ out.'”
The ongoing nastiness was affecting the staff at both papers. David’s relationship with Commanducci, the editor who had been hired by Patrick White in January ’94, had soured by the early summer. Commanducci felt that Mackin didn’t have the skills to pull the paper out of the financial mess Patrick White had left them in.
After White disappeared, David fired the Outreach bookkeeper (who had also originally been hired by White) and, according to Commanducci, dispensed with “real bookkeeping” altogether. Commanducci estimates that between April and July ’94 the average circulation of the paper was slightly above 8,000 copies a week. At 25 cents per copy, that meant the weekly revenue being stuffed into David Mackin’s desk drawer should have been about $2,000. But when pressed, David could only account for between $1,300 and $1,700 per week. Commanducci demanded David institute basic bookkeeping practices, but he refused. One heated argument concerning financial accountability climaxed with David screaming, “I don’t care about the books! The books don’t make me money “‘ He claims he now keeps regular books.
To help get the operation back on track, to pay off the debts left behind by White, and to finally bring about much needed financial accountability, Commanducci offered to set up a management company consisting of himself, assistant editor Jason Boardman and former Outrider assignment editor David Paddon. Paddon, who had helped put together The Outrider’s successful jobsOntario application, suggested to David Mackin that, as part of the management team, he felt certain that he would be able to negotiate a similar grant for the Outreach organization.
According to Commanducci, David Mackin initially accepted the offer, but when the time came to hand over control, he reneged. Finally, in early July, it became apparent that he did not intend to let his paper be controlled by anyone but himself. Commanducci, his concerns over accountability pushed to the limit, resigned. A week later Boardman followed.
David Mackin says he turned down the management offer because the paper wasn’t making enough money to pay even one salary, let alone three, and “I didn’t want to be in a position where I’d be obligated to them.” (That the shoestring operation doesn’t make much money is obvious. David rents a car once a week to pick his papers up from the printer, brings them back to a cramped one-room office, and then uses public transit to deliver bundles to vendors.) He also indicated that there were too many rules and controls associated with granting agencies, and he had no desire to have anyone breathing down his neck telling him how to run his operation.
Though losing an editor and assistant editor at the same time would throw any small paper into a tailspin, David’s July was nothing compared to Jim’s August.
During his first year of operation, Jim Mackin had managed to attract top-quality volunteers like Rod and Jan Goodman, David Paddon, Jack Mersereau and Chris Simpson. These people helped give The Outrider focus and character, and seemed to put the paper on the verge of stability. But, according to Rod Goodman, the Mackin family competition had become a blood feud: “They both seemed obsessed with beating the other.” And the battle was wearing thin on Jim’s volunteers.
Yet, except for David Paddon, who left in May 1994 because he was “fed up with the way Jim did business, and Jim’s obsession with beating his son,” and Jack Mersereau, who resigned in June of that year because he was “disenchanted with the fierce competition” and could no longer stomach the Mackin feud, The Outrider’s dedicated group of volunteers was on hand to help the paper celebrate its first anniversary in July 1994.
The August 16 issue, a 12-page edition with the eclectic mix of columns, humour, sports and entertainment that had become the trademark of Goodman’s Outrider, boasted a masthead of nearly a dozen individual volunteers. On August 31, when the next edition hit the streets, the paper was down to only eight pages and the masthead to five names. The Outrider’s incredible shrinking masthead contained no editor, no copy editor, no assistant or assigning editors, and no co-publisher. The only name left on the masthead, excluding one volunteer and a handful of “consultants,” was Jim Mackin.
The Outrider’s staff exodus was sparked by Jim’s treatment and eventual dismissal of three workers being sponsored by a federal social-services program, Summer Employment/Employment Development. Chris Simpson explains that as part of the SEED sponsorship, office visits were scheduled by a social-service representative. One of those visits was set for a Friday afternoon in late August 1994. The rep arrived, only to find that Jim had decided to take a trip to Fort Erie, leaving Simpson to answer the questions.
As most of the questions concerned the proper distribution of funds, Simpson, who had little to do with office finances, felt uncomfortable dealing with the situation. He wrote Mackin a letter in which he outlined his editorial responsibilities at the paper and requested that he be asked to perform only those types of duties in the future. He indicated in the letter that his own financial situation was dire, and he had decided to actively pursue part-time work to help keep his head above water. He also emphasized his strong desire to continue working at the paper in a part-time capacity. He gave Mackin the letter on Monday morning. That afternoon, Mackin, who never met with the SEED representative, announced that he had decided to fire all three SEED employees.
One of those employees, a layout artist named Geordie Telfer, became the focus of Jim’s ire: “This young guy, Telfer, he created some havoc. He was trying to lead a revolt against me so I decided to clean house and that was it.” Jim says money was not an issue in the dismissals, but does agree that the three, who were being paid out of newspaper receipts while the paper awaited the arrival of social-services funds, were owed at least $340 in total when they were fired. Simpson approached Jim and asked him to reconsider, or at least fully pay the SEED employees to avoid any future problems. Mackin responded by firing Simpson.
When the Goodmans heard about the firings, they decided they’d had enough of Jim Mackin. The day after Simpson’s dismissal, Rod and Jan Goodman resigned from The Outrider.”Jim believed he alone could make the paper run. He let go of some very talented people who didn’t deserve to be let go. So I decided I couldn’t work with him anymore,” explains Rod Goodman. In the space of one month, Jim had fired half of his talented staff and the other half had quit.
Jim Mackin did more than drive Goodman away from The Outrider. He actually drove him away from the concept of newspapers designed to serve Toronto’s homeless. Asked if he would consider editing a homeless paper staffed by his choice of volunteers, Goodman’s response was an emphatic no: “Not the way things are going on that street. People would see another paper and say, ‘Oh no,’ and not buy it. Even if the others were to shut down, people are going to feel less accepting of homeless papers in Toronto.”
Goodman is not alone in his pessimism for the future of Toronto’s homeless papers. Commanducci, Boardman and Paddon briefly discussed the viability of starting their own paper, but decided it was unlikely that even the most scrupulous of operations would he able to eclipse the growing shadow of public mistrust. Even The Outrider’s former associate publisher, Jack Mersereau, whose dedication helped Jim Mackin’s idea grow into Toronto’s first homeless paper, says the Mackin competition has, for him, soured the concept: “The idea,” he laments, “has lost its charm.”
While Mersereau’s comment is an understatement, the truth is Jim and David Mackin have taken a once laudable concept and twisted it into an almost laughable sideshow. Almost laughable, except that caught in the middle of this perfectly charmless family feud is a group of paper vendors trying to make a buck.