[Hpn] A New York state of mind for Toronto?

Graeme Bacque gbacque@colosseum.com
Thu, 27 Jan 2005 07:47:15 -0500

Now that they're rid of 'Ghoul'iani, NYC appears to be on the right 
track. - Graeme

Jan. 27, 2005. 06:42 AM

A New York state of mind for Toronto?
Activist sees cure for homelessness
She urges housing, not more hostels


Housing and support  not more hostels  are the solution to 
homelessness, says a New York City activist whose ideas have spurred 
Mayor David Miller's recent commitment to end street homelessness.

"The challenge isn't what to do, but how to do more of what we know 
works," said Rosanne Haggerty, founder of the innovative and highly 
successful Common Ground Community supportive housing company in New York.

"We're no longer groping around in the dark on this issue," she said 
yesterday as she toured one of Toronto's newest supportive housing 
projects in the Annex, which was inspired by Common Ground's work in New 

"The question is, do we have the political will to implement what we 
know works and then make sure the people who need it get it," she said.

Haggerty and New York City housing commissioner Linda Gibbs were in 
Toronto yesterday to share their insights at a forum on supportive 
housing sponsored by the Homes First Foundation.

More than 37,000 people, including 15,000 children, sleep in New York 
homeless shelters every night, many for months on end. Another 2,700 
remain on the streets, Gibbs told the forum.

But last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg vowed to end homelessness in New 
York within five years through a multifaceted plan to prevent people 
from losing their homes, and provide long-term housing options and 
support for those who end up on the street.

As a result, the city expects to cut its $720 million annual shelter 
budget by two-thirds by 2010, Gibbs said.

"Solving homelessness is big and it's complex, but it's not rocket 
science," Gibbs told the forum. "But if you don't say it's solvable and 
you don't hold yourself accountable for it, then you won't get there."

Toronto, which operates almost 4,600 emergency hostel beds and has an 
annual shelter budget of about $114 million, can't set targets like New 
York because there's not enough funding from Ottawa and Queen's Park, 
Miller's housing adviser, Sean Goetz-Gadon, said in an interview.

However, Miller's $18.4 million homelessness strategy, which goes to 
city council next month, is a first step, he said. The strategy includes 
hiring six new outreach workers to provide one-on-one service to people 
on the street and encourage them to move from public space into 
emergency shelters; building 1,000 new affordable housing units every 
year; and lobbying senior governments to build more supportive housing, 
issue more rent supplements, and increase the number of mental health 
and addiction-treatment beds for homeless people.

Provincial Infrastructure Minister David Caplan and federal Housing 
Minister Joe Fontana wrote Miller last week to say the two levels of 
government are close to signing an agreement that will provide up to 
$600 million for new affordable housing projects in Ontario. Toronto's 
share would be between $30 million and $50 million per year, Goetz-Gadon 

Meanwhile, provincial Health Minister George Smitherman told the 
gathering Queen's Park will provide 500 new rent supplements for people 
in Toronto with mental health problems who might otherwise end up in jail.

"The effort is to keep people from being on the street, in jails or in 
the shelter system but actually have them housed within supportive 
environments," Goetz-Gadon said. "It's a terrific step that indicates 
(the province) actually gets the fact that there needs to be help in 
this area."

Haggerty, who before the forum toured a former 97-unit hotel on Pears 
Ave., near Davenport Ave. and Avenue Rd., that is now permanent housing 
for the homeless, was impressed. "To be able to find a hotel you can 
occupy right away is so exciting," she said.

Haggerty was the inspiration behind Common Ground's 1994 transformation 
of the derelict Times Square Hotel into a beautifully restored home for 
652 street people, low-income workers and psychiatric survivors. The 
project has on-site mental health and social services, employment and 
substance abuse counselling, and residents are employed as security 
guards, maintenance workers and administrative staff.

Key to Common Ground's success at propelling homeless people back into 
productive society is its partnership with Ben and Jerry's, a popular 
American ice cream company, Haggerty said. Common Ground runs a 
franchise on the main floor of its Times Square building to provide job 
training and paid employment for residents.

"When it comes to ending homelessness, supportive housing is at the top 
of the list," Haggerty said. "It already exists. It's less expensive 
than shelters and it works well in neighbourhoods. Its purpose is 
invisible and if it's well thought out, it can be an asset in the 

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