[Hpn] Tories ignoring Ontario's growing homeless crisis, advocates

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Fri, 05 May 2000 17:53:40 -0700 (PDT)



FWD  Canadian Press - Updated: Thu, May 04, 2000 04:49 PM EDT

TORONTO (CP) - Advocates put the scorched remnants of
20-year-old Jennifer Caldwell's life on display at the legislature
on Thursday as evidence the Ontariornment doesn't care about the

But the Tories say they do care about getting people off the
streets and are spending millions to help.

"I have brought a set of relics to show the kind of death that
happens when our government and our society turns its back on
people," Bob Rose, a Toronto outreach worker, told a news

A charred running shoe, a piece of particle board, a bit of
blanket, a blackened handwritten note to friends and loved ones lay
strewn in a makeshift box.

Formerly of Vancouver, Caldwell died in March when fire swept
her makeshift shelter in a downtown-area ravine. She is one of at
least 22 people advocates say have died on Toronto streets since

Critics say the Ontario budget released Tuesday introduced no
new measures to help those on the ss.

Instead, the economic blueprint promised a $200 tax rebate, or
"dividend," for every Ontario resident who paid tax in the last

"The government has enough money to give $200 to every
tax-paying citizen - $1 billion! My God, think of the housing they
could build," Rose said. "Think of the lives that money could

If the Tories were to spend just 80 per cent of that dividend on
social housing, they would essentially alleviate the problem, said
Michael Shapcott, of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee.

But if nothing is done, homelessness will reach disastrous
proportions, he said.

While Housing Minister Tony Clement sidestepped questions about
new housing, Social Services Minister John Baird denied the
government is sitting on its hands.

"My ministry will spend more than $2 billion to help people who
are homeless or are at risk for becoming homeless through shelter

He also said $50 million in federal money given to the province
will soon start flowing for rent supplements.

"Can we do more? You bet," Baird said. "We'll be spending
more on homelessness this year."

Critics say the rate of homelessness is up in cities as diverse
as Barrie, Hamilton, Ottawa and North Bay, with the highest per
capita rate in Peterborough.

Across Ontario, more than 300,000 people are at risk of losing
their homes, advocates say.

In Toronto, where a family needing social housing could now wait
up to 25 years, about 65,000 people - 6,000 of them children - will
stay in shelters this year.

About 60 per cent of the people there can't get social
assistance, the committee said.

"The real question for the Harris government is: How many more
deaths are going to have to occur before you finally take some
action?" Shapcott said.

The Tories are "the architects of this homeless disaster"
because they scrapped thousands of planned non-profit and co-op
housing units when they came to power in 1995, said Kira Heineck,
also of the disaster relief committee.

The government also cut welfare rates by 21.6 per cent and later
downloaded about $800 million in social housing costs onto
cash-strapped municipalities.

"Rage becomes inarticulate as does the incredible sadness at
the outcome of this budget," Heineck said.

Advocates are planning a march Saturday from Toronto city hall
to the Ontario legislature to lobby the province to spend more on
the homeless.


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