Toronto fed up with "the homeless"? So what's government to do?

Tom Boland (
Sun, 6 Jun 1999 00:45:14 -0700 (PDT)

The Toronto columnist cited below offers an analysis of who is homeless and
why.  If the column were an AD for particular approach to social policy for
addressing homelessness in Canada, what would that policy be?

Would implementing that policy help all homeless people?  If not, which
homeless people -- and other stakeholders in the policy debate -- might the
policy help?  Who might be left behind?
FWD  Toronto Star - March 31, 1999


     By Royson James - The Cities

 WHEN A CALLER begins a voice mail message with, ``About your column,''the
columnist is primed to listen.

 ``Grow up,'' the voice shouts. ``The homeless, they don't want to work or
they don't want to obey the rules. The only real ones are the mental

 ``You can't tell me none of these people have families. I'm tired of The
Star's baloney on the homeless. And so is everybody else.''

 Her voice rising in anger, she was not quite finished.

 ``Another thing, don't speak for other people that everybody in Toronto is
outraged. You'd be amazed at how many people are fed up to the eyeballs
with the homeless.

 ``C'mon, grow up, go out, go out. Find out who their families are. You're
gonna find out they don't want to obey rules, that's what's wrong. Or they
are bums or something.

 ``And that Anne Golden report is the biggest joke of all. She is a
bleeding heart jackass.''

 That's the other side of the homeless debate: ordinary citizens fed up
with the focus and protests and voices raised in anger and more reports and
rising pressure on governments to spend tax dollars on a problem some see
as a simple case of young punks running away from home and choosing street
life rather than the chores and responsibilities of home.

 This is more than mere right-wing rhetoric. The complainants say the
social safety net that's needed to catch the victims of violence, abuse and
economic hardships too often becomes a cradle for citizens who just can't
be bothered to exercise the minimum amount of discipline needed to function
within the norms of society.

 But homelesness is a complex issue and if we gave street kids a good
spanking and sent them back home, the problem wouldn't disappear.

 Despite the disparaging words of the caller, the Anne Golden task force
report is as comprehensive and thorough a study of the causes and cure of
homelessness as is available. It paints a clear picture for all who wish to

*  Almost half the city's homeless (46 per cent) are families, including
more than 5,000 children; 25 per cent are aboriginals. Families are the
fastest-growing segment of the homeless population.

*  About 80,000 are at risk of becoming homeless because they spend too
much of their income on rent. The waiting list for subsidized housing is
about 100,000. Join the list now and it could take 17 years to find a home.

*  Cuts to welfare payments pushed several families over the edge. For
example, a person on mother's allowance and paying $750 a month in rent
must seek cheaper quarters if the welfare cheque shrinks. She goes looking
for a $550 or $600 apartment, only to find there are not enough low-priced
units to go around. And because the waiting list for assisted housing is so
long, such families end up in shelters.

 In 1981, the average hostel stay was 16 days, says Toronto's hostel
director John Jagt. Now, it's 96 days - six times as long. With the regular
shelters full, families were sent to motels along Kingston Rd. Now, the
motels are full and Toronto is sending new applicants - 200 people so far -
to motels in St. Catharines, Hamilton, Burlington and Whitby.

 These are families, not punks.

 Yes, there are punks in hostels. Yes, it would be nice if we could send
them back home to the suburbs or Sudbury or Nova Scotia, where
approximately two-thirds of them originate. Yes, some of them are crazy,
addicted, mixed-up, and maybe impossible to rehabilitate.

 But, no, we can't turn our backs, even if we are sometimes fed up to our
eyeballs. And this city needs the help of the federal and provincial
governments to stem the tide of humanity flooding our streets.

[Royson James' column usually appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.]


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