Cathy Crowe




Newsletter No. 14, August 2005


I've been a street nurse in Toronto for 16 years. In the spring of 2004 I received the Atkinson Economic Justice Award which permits me to pursue, for up to three years, 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.

Cathy Crowe and TDRC's Bob Rose bring picnic to City Cooling Centre

Further information about subscribing to the newsletter is found below.  I want to hear from you - about the newsletter, about things that are happening in the homelessness sector (what a sad term!), and about good things which will provide inspiration for all of us.


In this newsletter: 

  1. Going Beyond the Money Patchwork – Creating a National Housing Program
  2. Update on the Killer Heat
  3. Toronto: 400 homeless deaths
  4. Summer reading: “PREFAB”


1.  Going Beyond the Money Patchwork – Creating a National Housing Program.


Canadians have been forced to create a patchwork of funding to develop affordable housing, in what is widely recognized as a man-made disaster. Canada still needs a National Housing Program.






Text Box: Patchwork: hodgepodge, mishmash, jumble, tumble, scramble, tangle, mess, confused mess, confusion, crazy quilt (from The Synonym Finder, J.I. Rodale)

Organizations and municipalities that try to develop housing need to scramble and piece together monies from various sources, creating a money patchwork for the three key components of housing:


  1. Capital - on average a builder/developer needs at least $75,000 per unit to build.
  2. Subsidies (or housing allowances or rent supplements) - to keep the units truly affordable.
  3. Supports - for staff and the resources that are necessary to ensure assistance and support for people with special needs or challenges.


Canadians and more particularly Ontarians should be furious that promised housing monies are yet to be seen.


Figures released to the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee by provincial housing officials in April show that Ontario created a total of 65 new affordable housing units over three years. 18 new affordable homes were created in the year ending in March of 2004. 23 units in the year ending March 2003 and 24 units in the year ending March 2002.  If the provincial government had matched available federal funds ($213.9 million), Ontario could have created 8,592 new homes for 23,200 people.

In April 2005, the Ontario government signed the federal-provincial-territorial housing agreement (for the third time). The deal commits a total of $600 million dollars, of which approximately $200 million will come to Toronto.  For the first time the agreement will not require matching dollars from Ontario, meaning there’s little excuse for Ontario not to move forward and spend. This one-time money (capital only) will be administered by municipalities and will likely equate to $75,000 per unit. Flexibility has been introduced to allow some of the monies to be used for rent supplements. As of August 1st however, this agreement that was signed in public and in front of national media has still not been made public! Housing advocates have been repeatedly told that officials are still meeting to figure out how to roll out the money. Why? Because we don’t have a provincial housing program, let alone a national program that spells out how to do it.


Meanwhile, Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care George Smitherman recently announced $27 million for “affordable housing.”  These monies are probably not capital dollars and there is still not a clear plan on how these monies will be used. For example, there has been no announcement of a Request for Funding Proposal (RFP) for organizations like the Edmund Yu Safe House Project to apply to.


Back in Ottawa, $1.6 billion for housing still sits in the bank. The celebrated Layton-Martin budget that included $1.6 billion for housing over 2 years saw its final seal of approval last month. The monies are designated for aboriginal housing, urban renovations (such as the Regent Park redevelopment in Toronto) and general affordable housing. It is likely that approximately $290 million will go to Toronto.


But (there’s always a “but”) the entire $1.6 billion must be allocated this budget year (2005-2006).  Bill C-48 says that the money must be allocated from the federal surplus which will not be declared until March 2006. Again, because we do not have a National Housing Program it is not clear how the money will be spent. Will it be channelled through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation? Through municipalities? Minister Fontana promises to release the long awaited strategy document soon.


As of August 1st, rumours swirl that the federal-provincial-territorial housing ministers will be meeting in early September in Halifax. Let your MP know that you want to see real money and a real housing program.


Here’s how to reach your federal Member of Parliament


Campaign 2000 is planning a Summer Lobby of MPs on a number of issues including housing.  For more information on how you can help, contact:


Hamoon Ekhtiari at or 416-595-9230 ex. 226 (all summer)

Jacquie Maund 416-595-9230x241 (away Aug. 15-Sept 2).


Useful Websites:



2.  Update on the Killer Heat


In my July newsletter I described how Toronto’s front-line workers were forced into disaster relief mode, in reaction to the heat-related death of a man in a rooming house.


Things quickly went from bad to worse. The Coroner’s office is now investigating at least 6 heat-related deaths – all seemingly poor people. Toronto paramedics have never been busier and City Health inspectors did a blitz of over 150 rooming houses to check on vulnerable people. A paramedic reported at a City press conference that the temperature in one room was 41 degrees Celsius. The individual in this room was sent to hospital and was admitted to Intensive Care.


Front-line workers madly scrambled to convince City officials to create a stronger heat-safety net which would match emergency heat plans in other cities around the world including Chicago, Phoenix and Paris. These cities are dealing much more effectively with heat issues than Toronto. We have lessons to learn from them.


Best practices in other “world class” cities include:


  • The office of the Mayor is used as a successful communication tool to reach the masses in a number of cities. In Paris, for example, the Mayor makes a special appeal that people who are vulnerable register with the city’s high risk registry.
  • Numerous cities operate phone registries for people who are vulnerable (such as the elderly and people with serious health problems) in order that they can be checked on during heat waves, either by phone or a visit. Chicago, for instance, has a central 311 line that connects people with heat alert information in the summer. People can arrange transportation to the nearest cooling centre, or can register people who are at risk during the heat. The city has teams that visit those who are at risk. In contrast, Toronto has a 10-digit phone line staffed by the Red Cross, with no registration line and no coordinated transportation system.  
  • Many cities have multiple 24 hour cooling centres with programs including games, nutritious snacks and food. Transportation assistance is coordinated to bring people to the cooling centres. In contrast, Toronto has only one 24 hour cooling centre where only water is provided. As of July 16, juice became available, but is only offered once someone has fallen ill.
  • Many cities run fan and air conditioning loan programs and ambulances are used to bring fans to the elderly. In contrast, no such program exists here. TDRC recently donated $400 to PARC drop-in to help them purchase fans for some of their more vulnerable clients.
  • Several cities assist low-income people with their utility bills. For example, people who might receive a donated air-conditioner are provided some assistance to pay their higher hydro charges. There are no such programs for low-income tenants in Toronto.
  • In other cities, additional street outreach vans are used to check on people who are homeless. In contrast, Toronto’s homeless outreach programs have been reduced despite the heat emergencies.


During an Extreme Heat Alert on Sunday July 17, I joined the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee to deliver food, cold drinks and snacks to our city’s cooling centre. It felt like it was the least we could do to make our point. We brought playing cards, magazines and newspapers and had a picnic with the people there. John Bonnar captured our visit:


Consider this - in contrast to our politicians’ response or lack of response during Ontario’s recent killer heat wave, in France Health Minister Xavier Bertrand announced $31 million in state funding to protect the elderly. This was in reaction to two recent deaths of elderly homeless people in Brittany.


Here in Ontario, we should be ashamed of ourselves.


For a long term response to this issue, leadership has come from the community. The Toronto Environmental Alliance reacted swiftly to the killer heat and worked with housing and homeless advocates to further advance long-term measures that can minimize what is known as the ‘Heat Island Effect.’


The following motion on Taking Action to Reduce the Heat Island Effect in Toronto

was passed at the July City Council meeting. The essence of the motion is:


THAT City Council directs staff in consultation with the Mayor’s Roundtable on the Environment and the Toronto Atmospheric Fund to prepare a “Heat Island Effect Mitigation” strategy that would include a requirement that new roofs meet Energy Star requirements, strategic tree planting to shade buildings, parking lots and other dark surfaces, and targeted energy conservation measures for low-income housing that ensure maximum temperature standards, as set by public health officials, not be exceeded.


Media has been extremely interested in this issue and, needless to say, anyone who cares about the environment will want to see some leadership. Stay tuned for updates from me on this in the fall.


3.  Toronto: 400 homeless deaths

In August I anticipate that the 400th name of a person, who has died homeless, will be added to the Memorial Board at the Church of the Holy Trinity. The name might very well be John or Jane Doe. Why? Because there is not one single level of government that has ever cared to document this issue.


Who is dying? Why are they dying? Where are they dying? What is the impact on their friends, families and on workers? Have policy shifts changed the frequency and nature of homeless deaths? What are best practices in North America for tracking deaths? How do other jurisdictions track homeless deaths? How do new privacy laws help or hinder the release of information from the Coroner’s office? Does the public have a right to know about the human consequences of not dealing with homelessness?


These are all questions that need to be answered. This is the kind of real and useful research that we need academics and researchers to assist us with.


A 24 hour vigil will be held to commemorate the 400th death. It will begin Monday August 8 at 6pm and end on Tuesday August 9 at 6 pm. At noon on August 9 a special Homeless Memorial Service will be held outside, at the Memorial Board at the Church of the Holy Trinity. Please come if you can, at any point over the 24 hours.



4.  Summer reading


Last night I had the pleasure of finishing a wonderful and inspiring book. It’s called PREFAB, by Allison Arieff and Bryan Burkhart and is published by Gibbs Smith. It’s full of history, creative ideas and more importantly big colourful pictures! I’ve been a big fan of pre-fab housing since helping to bring Durakits into Tent City, but I’m an even bigger fan having read this book.


Did you know that the history of pre-fab housing goes back to 1624 when houses were shipped from England to Cape Ann to provide housing for a fishing fleet? Or that pre-fabs were embraced as an answer to the desperate need for housing after the devastation of World War I in Europe? Or that houses could at one time be ordered by mail, for example from Sears, Roebuck and Co? Is it any surprise that the Swedes are way ahead of us when it comes to pre-fab housing and for many reasons they have barely any homeless people? IKEA’s “Bo-Klok” (Live Smart) housing units are both beautiful and affordable. The benefits of pre-fabs (affordability, ease of construction, aesthetics, portability, and adaptability) leave me hoping to see a book extolling Canadian pre-fab virtues as a means to solve our housing crisis.


If IKEA had a kit in their catalogue I would seriously consider buying one. That’s a hint IKEA.





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Picture: courtesy of John Bonnar



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