The Toronto Star’s public editor, Kathy English, took up the issue of describing the homeless as “street people” in a recent column.
The discussion was prompted by a reader complaint over the Star’s April 30 article with the headline “Man admits strangling streetperson,” according to English. The reader, “community health nurse” Cathy Crowe, commented that the story on “the savage beating death of a ‘kind and gentle'” homeless woman was “sensitively written,” but the headline was “diminishing and pejorative.”
After noting that “street person” isn’t even in the Oxford Canadian Dictionary, English explained the Star doesn’t know who wrote the headline as it was changed somewhere in the editing process. English commented that she joins with Crowe in finding “streetperson” a “dehumanizing” label. In some cases, “street person” may be “the most appropriate choice,” English wrote — but not in this story.
English noted that the Toronto Star’s “style guide has no restrictions on the term “street person” and little guidance on writing about the homeless and disadvantaged.”
iMediaEEthics noted that the online version of the story carries the “gentle homeless” headline and not the “street person” terminology. We asked English via e-mail if the headline was changed after her column, but she explained the “street person” headline was only in the print edition.