Children on welfare - hard times for some in wealth's midst FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 16 May 1999 14:57:42 -0700 (PDT)


In your community, do poor children live "doubled up" in substandard
housing and shelters, as they do in Toronto?

Why is anyone poor in the world's richest nations?

See related article below:

http://www.thestar.com/thestar/editorial/opinion/990515INS01b_IN-KIDS15.html
FWD  Toronto Star Opinion Story: May 15, 1999

     Hard Times - A serialized account
     of Toronto's 108,662 children on welfare

     IT'S ILLEGAL, SQUALID AND PRICEY - BUT IT'S HOME

     By  Elaine Carey - Toronto Star  Demographics Reporter

 Welfare kids are warehoused in Toronto.

 They live in apartments their parents can't afford until the money runs
out and the landlord has them evicted.

 Then they move to illegal basement apartments or crowd in with relatives
or friends, or anywhere else their parents can find.

 And when all else fails, they end up in hostels for homeless families -
often another name for a room in a motel on Kingston Rd.

 Through it all, the kids keep moving - so often, no one keeps track of
them or knows what they're going through. They constantly change schools;
they lose friends and whatever self-esteem they might have developed.

 ``The frequent moves which are part of the cycle when housing is too
expensive and/or of very poor quality further disrupts the lives of these
children,'' says Toronto's task force on homelessness in a report this year.

 Even moving three times before the age of 11 can lead to problem behaviour
in children, ranging from failing a grade in school to aggression,
vandalizing property and smoking, according to a new report by the Canadian
Council on Social Development.

 Their distracted parents also become more punitive and inconsistent, which
only increases their behaviour problems.

 The 108,662 kids on welfare in Toronto are the poorest of the poor and
decent housing for them is mostly just a dream.

 More than three-quarters of them live in private rental housing where the
rent eats up far more of the welfare cheque than it's supposed to,
according to data obtained by The Star from provincial and municipal
welfare rolls.

 They can't get into subsidized housing because there isn't enough of it.

 The federal government quit building social housing in 1992 after 50
years, and the province halted any new funding two years later. Then, in
1995, it cut welfare rates - including the shelter allowance - by 21.6 per
cent.

 And last spring, the province lifted the lid on rents by cancelling rent
control on all vacant apartments.

 With fewer cheap apartments, the price of what was left started to rise.
Rents are going up, poverty is deepening and kids are suffering.

 The number of families admitted to hostels rose by 76 per cent in the
eight years up to 1996. That year, they included 5,300 children.

 ``On any given night in Toronto, there are almost as many parents and
children living in hostels as there are single adults,'' the task force
says.

 Right now, more than 31,000 children are on a waiting list for public
housing in Toronto. More than a third of them have just one parent.

 But there's very little chance they will ever move off that waiting list
into a decent home. ``At the current rate, families would have to wait 17
years for placement,'' says the task force report.

 The children have difficulties in school. They have no privacy. Their
lives are unsettled. They constantly face the threat of eviction. They lose
their friends. They live in rough neighbourhoods where their lives are in
danger. If their parents work, they are left in ``questionable
circumstances'' because of a lack of affordable day care. They have poor
nutrition. They put up with mice and cockroaches.

 Two thousand new units of social housing used to be built a year in Toronto.

 ``You can debate whether 2,000 new units a year was enough, but now we
don't have any,'' says Joanne Campbell, general manager of Toronto's
shelter and housing division. ``The reality is, there's never been enough.''

 By the end of March, more than 45,000 households representing more than
100,000 people were on the waiting list for assisted housing. More than
half of them are families with children - the 31,000 children referred to
above - and their numbers are rising astronomically.

 Between 1991-93 and 1994-96, the number of families applying for assisted
housing tripled from 1,000 to 3,000. Then, in the next year and a half,
their numbers rose by another 2,000 families.

 ``When families face a daily struggle to maintain their housing, other
needs, including those of their children, go unmet,'' the task force says.

 More than half of the families on the waiting list are on welfare. And
nearly 75 per cent of them are paying more for rent than the maximum
shelter allowance they can receive.

 ``You have to get in your mind that the shelter allowance does not pay
what it really costs to rent in Toronto,'' says Anne Golden, chair of the
task force on homelessness.

 She is grateful for those basements and illegal apartments.

 ``Without them, this would be a huge, huge crisis.''

 The shelter portion of a welfare cheque is now 20 per cent to 30 per cent
below what it costs to rent an apartment in Toronto, the task force says.
That means up to a third of the food money for kids has to go to pay the
rent.

 As well, the province has stopped funding staff who used to help families
on welfare find cheap housing and avoid getting evicted.

 Even if welfare families do find a decent apartment, they have no money
for the first and last month's rent.

 A single parent on welfare living in private housing spends 63.5 per cent
of her income on shelter, according to data obtained by The Star. That
means there is only an average of $13.03 a day for all other expenses for
three people.

 If they are among the lucky few who got into public housing, they are
slightly better off. At the end of the day, they have $17.22 left for all
their expenses.

 A two-parent family on welfare in private housing spends an average 53.3
per cent of its income on rent, leaving an average $21 a day to feed,
clothe and pay for transportation for four people.

 The housing they find is largely in two big ghettos - downtown Toronto
from the College St. streetcar line south to Lake Ontario, and the
northwest quadrant of the city, from Highway 401 to Steeles Ave., west from
Dufferin St. to Highway 427, the Star study found.

 Toronto is a magnet for the poorest people and their children because it
offers anonymity, good services, a lot of people in the same situation and
at least the chance of finding a job, says Golden.

 Her report recommended the shelter allowance portion of welfare be equal
to 85 per cent of the median market rent in every part of the province. In
some smaller cities or towns, that would mean lowering the allowance. But
in Toronto, it would mean increasing it by an average of just over 20 per
cent of the maximum.

 That would cost the provincial government $63.5 million a year in Toronto
- a pretty cheap way to solve the housing plight of welfare families,
Golden says.

 The task force also recommended the city set up a $500,000 annual rent
bank to help people deal with their short-term rent arrears and pay the
first and last month's rent for welfare recipients.

 The city has been struggling to get around the province's welfare rules
that say it must claw back from welfare families two federal increases in
the Canada Child Tax Benefit - $605 per child last year and another $350 in
two stages starting in July this year.

 The province takes 80 per cent of the money it denies to welfare families
and puts it into programs for working-poor families. The City of Toronto
gets the other 20 per cent, but under the provincial rules, can't give it
back to welfare recipients.

 The homelessness report urges governments to start building social housing
again, allow more apartments in private homes and create a climate that
will encourage the private sector to build more rental housing.

``You've got to attack the problem on all those fronts,'' Campbell says.

 The task force report is ``a real road map,'' she says. ``Instead of
slamming everybody for what they're not doing, it says, `Here's what you
can do.'

``(But) if each level of government doesn't play its role, it's not going
to happen.''

 The cost of doing nothing is frightening.

 Toronto has already had a 120 per cent increase in the use of shelters by
families in the past seven years. And the problems will only get worse, the
homelessness task force warns. It says that in the next five years:

** The city could ``easily'' lose 25,000 to 50,000 low-rent private
apartments a year as rents rise.

** 60,000 households could be on the waiting list for subsidized housing,
unless people give up applying.

** 15,000 to 30,000 more households could have difficulty affording housing
on top of the 106,000 who already do.

** If family hostel use continues to double every five years and hostel use
by singles also continues to rise, hostel space would have to be added for
up to 6,000 people a night.

Homelessness in Toronto is stereotyped, Campbell says. We see only the ones
who beg on the streets or stumble out of downtown hostels in the morning.

 ``You don't see a mother with two kids sitting on the street,'' she says.
``They're either doubled up with relatives or being evicted and moving into
a motel unit. Poverty as it affects families is not seen. Families at risk
of being homeless and in the process of being homeless are a huge, huge
problem.''

END FORWARD

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