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Toronto shelter scores touchdown with Super Bowl dinner for homeless men

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Probably not so different from your Super Bowl knees-up on Sunday evening, except dry.

With the emphasis on dry – as in, out of the wet, the puddled sidewalks, the slushy snowbanks, the weeping concrete struts beneath the Gardiner Expressway.

A championship football extravaganza for the down and out, at the Good Shepherd shelter on Queen Street East, on the edge of Regent Park.

The good shepherd on this evening, as on most evenings, is Brother Tom Liss, director of shelter and hospitality for the past dozen years.

“After a week of miserable weather, we wanted to do something special to help lift their spirits.’’

A break in the frigid temperatures has also been a Godsend. For the month of January, the facility had been running at 99.9 per cent capacity.

Across the city, as of Friday when the “census was last updated”, there were 1,805 men, 789 women, 525 youth and 748 family units occupying shelter beds, according to the city’s shelter website, with another 2,153 staying at city-supported motels. It’s unknown the number who were “sleeping rough”, although the city pegs that figure at about 450 nightly.

You’ve seen them, with their bundles and bags, even king-size mattresses spread across the sidewalk, over heating grates, beneath the overpasses.

“There’s quite a few who just won’t come inside,’’ says Brother Tom. “They’re determined to survive on their own. I’ve never been able to understand it myself. Maybe they’ve had a bad experience in a shelter. Some are just dyed in the wool anti-government, don’t want anything to do with any organization. But most of them are pretty tough.’’

They drifted in, most of them alone. A few sit at the trestle tables with friends made but most are like little islands of solitude. A person comes to respect private space, when so much is so often a cluster.

“Can I sit on the stairs,’’ one young fellow asks a staffer. “That TV camera is scaring the s- – – out of me. My family can’t know I’m here.’’

“I’m here for the food, not the game,’’ says another bloke, hunkered over his plate.

“I’m a soccer fan, don’t know anything about football,’’ admits yet another.

Dressed in hoodies and toques, stripping off layers of clothes because many go about the streets wearing everything they own. Those who are actually staying at the premises are recognizable by their short sleeves and socked feet slipped into flip-flops. They just come down from upstairs, gathering in front a large-screen TV that, with speakers, has been donated by Rich Rabba, president of Rabba Fine Foods. The provisions have been sent over by vendors at the company’s 35 stores across the GTA.

The Rabba story is an immigrant-made-good story, founded by Rich’s father, who arrived in Canada in 1966 from the Middle East.

“To be honest, the idea of helping our fellow man is what motivated us to do this,’’ says Rabba. “There’s nothing that makes me any different from them, other than maybe luck.’’

Richard Zirgha is a refugee from Uganda. He arrived in Toronto a year ago. Actually, he landed in Vancouver where a good Samaritan gifted him $200. Put that together with the $250 in his pockets, travelled cross-country on the train, and headed straight for the Good Shepherd.

“Uganda is a beautiful country,’’ says the 35-year-old who trained as a mechanic back home, even ran his own garage. “But I’m gay. In Uganda, if they find out you’re gay, your life is over. You’ll end up dead. They found out, the police. I had to run, leave everything I owned behind.’’

Watching the wide-screen TV at the front of the dining hall, he tries hard to understand what’s going on. “This game, I’d never seen it before. I grew up playing hockey.’’

Vincent Cripps, 45, declares his loyalty to the CFL, not the NFL. He’s been drifting, from couch-surfing with friends to homeless, since 2014, when his wife died. “I’m a jack of all trades, always had a job before, a home. But the depression, you know? Everything just spiralled out of control.’’

This is his second night at Good Shepherd. “If I wasn’t here, I’d be on the street, love.”

Ken Harris, 54, from the Maritimes: Had his own place until recently, a unit in an Oshawa apartment building where he was employed as superintendent. “It didn’t work out.’’

Jeff Allen, 61: “I’m a hockey guy. Don’t even know who’s playing, to tell you the truth.’’

Homeless as of Feb. 1, when the rent money ran out.

So many sad stories, subsisting in the shadows, hard-scrabble.

And of course, a great many homeless are mentally ill – either because they started out that way, and ended up on the street, or the street got inside their head.

“Mental illness is prevalent,’’ says Brother Tom. “Sometimes I look around here and wonder if I’m at the emergency department of CAMH or Good Shepherd.’’

The facility has 95 beds – for men only – 25 of them designated for clients who are registered in the drug and alcoholic rehabilitation enhancement program. While alcohol is forbidden on the premises, the drunken aren’t turned away. “They don’t need to be sober,’’ says Brother Tom. “As long as they’re not disruptive.’’

Many are wait-listed for social housing. Between 50 and 60 per cent of residents are biding their time, waiting for permanent resettlement.

What they can’t do – as with all shelters, apart from drop-in centres – is while away the hours indoors, on-site. They’re turned out every morning at 8 a.m., so the building can be cleaned and prepared for the next wave of users. That’s why you see so many idle homeless shuffling around the area, congregating at nearby Moss Park.

The shelter operators aren’t being unkind but their resources only extend so far, while the need is ever-expanding. To convert the space into a 24/7 venue would require an extensive structural overhaul. “Which would mean less space for beds,’’ points out Brother Tom.

Originally, Good Shepherd, an undertaking of the St. John of God Brothers, ministered to men who were looking for housing and looking for jobs, often getting plucked for day labour. There’s not much of that anymore and their transience, the attendant inertia, has become deep-rooted.

“They can’t come and stay here forever though,” Brother Tom explains.

Fourteen consecutive nights is what’s allowed, before they’re “encouraged’’ to move on. At which point they’re shifted to the bottom of the priority list, with a minimum of 60 days before qualifying for the beds herein again.

Still, Good Shepherd does its best: a hot meal provided at 2 p.m. for everyone who drops by, registration for the night starting at 5:30 p.m., a substantial snack offered at 7 p.m..

It was estimated that Americans, who worship at the church of the NFL, would bet around $6 billion on Super Bowl LIII.

Who won? Who cares.

Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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