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#54 – March, 2009 Newsletter

I've been a street nurse in Toronto for 20 years. I have received the Atkinson Economic Justice Award which permits me to pursue my passions for nursing and working on homelessness and housing issues. In this newsletter I hope to report on my activities, create a link to a broader group of individuals who care about these social issues and encourage critical debate.

A view of earth: Stanley Park in Vancouver, where homeless humans are living pdf version of this issue

1. Sentient Alien Visits Canada

2. Miloon Kothari reports on his mission to Canada

3. The Count

1. Sentient Alien Visits Canada

I’ve been watching a lot of science fiction lately and I started thinking about a sentient alien visiting earth on a two-month fact-finding mission to Canada. S/he would have to be excused for thinking we must be a very crude culture.

Sent to earth on an exploratory mission for his/her species, s/he picked Canada to examine based on a galactic data search that suggested Canada had developed some interesting social program practices.

Reporting back to his/her planet’s council, I’m sure they would be puzzled about the changes and behaviours observed in the midst of what is clearly an enormous global economic crisis.

  • A 20% increase in humans seeking food at large food congregating sites, humans leaving pets for rescue at animal shelters and more humans sleeping outdoors using cardboard, tarpaulins and tents, ignored by the country’s leaders. 
  • More crowding, violence, disease and infestations inside refugee centres called shelters or drop-ins.
  • Homeless humans without adequate shelter dying at a staggering rate, from violence, cold weather, fires and suicide.
  • Large manufacturing centres coming to a standstill and putting tens of thousands of humans out of work.  Fewer than half of the unemployed receiving benefits from the historic social program now called EI.
  • News media obsessed with old time recipes from the Canadian ‘Great Depression’ such as ‘Hard Times Pudding’ or, as it’s known in Quebec, ‘Pouding de Chômeur (unemployed person's pudding)’, ‘Poverty Cake’ and ‘Mock Filet Mignon’.  There are also numerous media lessons on how struggling humans can survive the economic recession by food shopping at ‘Dollar Stores’, cutting coupons, embracing job loss by staying positive, and never using the ‘D’ word (depression).
  • A newspaper ad for something called Paris Fashion Week showing a female member of the species, colourfully dressed, with the words “Recession? Qu’est-ce que c’est??” beside her.
  • Grey haired humans joining the Canadian military in increasing numbers, purportedly to pay something called a mortgage. Many going to a faraway country called Afghanistan, risking death to fight in a war that is not even their war to wage.
  • Celebration of a doll named Barbie’s 50th birthday at the same time that 22,500 human children are homeless and in shelters with their families.

Although Canadian humans were adopting a new foreign mantra ‘Yes We Can’, it would not be clear that they had learned from their history, how to make social change happen let alone keeping the social changes they had fought for and won.

Further study by the Alien would reveal that Canada is one of the few countries in the world without a national housing strategy, with no stated legal right to housing. 

The Alien might note that a financial historian on Earth predicts that the global economic collapse will destabilize governments and trigger civil wars in some regions.   

The Alien would definitely report back that we are not ready for first contact.

2.  Miloon Kothari reports on his mission to Canada

Meanwhile, an international human expert offers his report on Canada.

Canada urgently needs a “comprehensive and coordinated national housing policy” to meet its international housing rights obligations, according to a powerful new report from Miloon Kothari, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, that was being tabled at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, March 9. The report is based on Mr. Kothari’s recent fact-finding mission to Canada.

“Canada is the only major country in the world without a national housing plan – and that leaves local communities to cope with deep and persistent housing insecurity and homelessness on their own,” says Michael Shapcott, Senior Policy Fellow at the Wellesley Institute. “As a leading and well-respected global expert on housing and homelessness, Mr. Kothari is telling Canada that it is failing to meet its fundamental obligations in international law. This is the latest in a series of damning reports from the United Nations – and should be a clear warning that Canada needs to adopt the practical recommendations set out by Mr. Kothari.” For instance, in May 2006, the United Nations’ Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concluded its review of Canada by calling housing insecurity and homelessness “a national emergency” and noted that “most of its 1993 and 1998 recommendations have not been implemented.”

The Wellesley Institute, a research and policy institute celebrating its first decade of advancing urban health, worked with Mr. Kothari and United Nations’ officials to help organize his meetings with community and academic experts across Canada. In his report, Mr. Kothari reviewed general housing and homelessness concerns, examined issues facing women and Aboriginal people, and studied the housing impact of the Vancouver Olympics.

“The recent federal budget includes an additional $2 billion for affordable housing, and the new investments are welcome,” says Mr. Shapcott. “However, it’s one-time only dollars and won’t repair the fraying patchwork of federal programs and investments that have been condemned by Mr. Kothari. Federal affordable housing investments have been eroding in recent years and are set to fall to their lowest level in more than a quarter century.”

3.  The Count

As Toronto plans its second homeless count I revisited my 2006 newsletter on its first homeless count (more links at the bottom of this page).  I also spoke with John Andras, a long-time and respected advocate in the city who currently chairs the Recession Relief Fund Coalition.

In addition to John Andras, various academics, health workers and a prominent service club have all determined not to support or partake in the City of Toronto’s homeless count.

I asked John what his concerns are:

My concerns are that this is a snapshot that does not accurately reflect the population of individuals. Many folks on the street know when the count is happening and they make themselves scarce, others are counted several times. Others are hidden homeless that will need services but are couch surfing and unknown to the survey. How does the count deal with the near homeless/street involved?

The weather will greatly change the count. If the weather is poor the count will be much lower as folk will find some place to go.

There is also concern of the intent of the count. Is the design of the survey to under-count to allow services to be scaled back?

How does this tie into Streets to Homes? It is known that individuals are being relocated to the suburbs where they survive with little access to services.

How does the count deal with the seasonality of street life? In the summer there are many more people living rough than in the winter/early spring.

I have always thought a survey of shelters, drop-ins, hospitals/clinics and other service providers would be more helpful in providing a needs assessment than trying to get an inaccurate snapshot. I would rather see money spent on tackling issues such as bed bugs, guaranteeing adequate nutrition by having every feeding program be inspected and funding provided to bring all facilities up to common standards.”

For more information on the homeless count go to:

For those still taking part in The Count and receiving a $100 honorarium,  I urge you, if you’re able, to donate it to the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee


Thanks to Anthony Rapoport for design, layout and web support, Bob Crocker for editing.

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