Toronto Star Editorial

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@idirect.com)
Sat, 23 Oct 1999 07:16:04 -0400


October 23, 1999 The Toronto Star

Ottawa dithers
while homeless suffer

There's an invigorating bite in the air. The furnace is rumbling back to
life. For the 80 per cent of Canadians with a secure roof over their heads,
autumn is a golden season.
But for the other 20 per cent - the homeless and those struggling to hang on
to shelter - fall's colder, shorter days bring heightened anxiety. The
hostels are filling up. It's getting risky to sleep outside. The dread of
eviction is growing.

Toronto, Canada's richest city, is the capital of homelessness.

On any given night, 3,000 people crowd into emergency shelters. Another
100,000 hang on precariously; living in filthy rooming houses, bunking in
with relatives, paying more than they can afford for tiny apartments.

Last fall, the city was in exactly the same predicament. But solutions were
being drafted. A city task force, backed by the federal government, was
putting together an action plan. It was widely expected that things would be
better this year.

They aren't. The federal government is still looking for ways to ``address
the root causes of homelessness,'' according to last week's Speech from the
Throne. The province called it ``a complex issue'' that could not be solved
by Queen's Park alone, in its Throne Speech Thursday.

Other countries - even other provinces - are doing a lot better than
Ontario, as Frances Bula points out in today's Star.

Her reports, part of an in-depth look at issue of homelessness sponsored by
the Atkinson Foundation, put names and faces to some of the many Canadians
with no fixed address.

Throughout the industrial world, with the unfortunate exception of here,
governments are realizing that the market will not meet the need for
affordable shelter.

They are subsidizing the construction of public housing, providing adequate
shelter allowances, working with non-profit groups to create and refurbish
low-cost housing,

funding research into innovative ways of increasing the housing stock and
acting to prevent shocks such as divorce, illness or loss of employment from
sending a family spiralling into homelessness.

Toronto is doing its best. But this city, unlike either of Canada's other
two major metropolitan centres, is getting no support from the province.
British Columbia and Quebec still have modest public housing programs,
ensuring that Vancouver and Montreal are somewhat better off than Toronto.

No municipality in the country is without housing problems of some sort:
runaways, homeless aboriginal people, psychiatric patients roaming the
streets, families waiting years on end for social housing.

Bula concludes, as almost every other researcher who has grappled with this
national crisis has done, that there is no simple solution to homelessness.
It will require dozens of initiatives - large and small, public and private,
traditional and unorthodox - to address the severe shortage of affordable
accommodation in Toronto and other Canadian cities.

The federal government, which pulled out of social housing in 1993, will
have to develop and maintain a core stock of affordable housing. The
province, which cancelled the construction of low-cost housing, eased rent
controls and saddled municipalities with the responsibility for maintaining
existing public housing, will have to abandon its myopic reliance on the
private sector.

Canadians will have to look in the mirror and ask whether a country where
decent shelter is out of reach for millions, is a comfortable home.