Cathy Crowe




Newsletter No. 17, November 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.

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.


A Canadian in the Adirondacks

I have been away in recent weeks so I haven't been following housing/homeless issues. I'm spending 4 weeks at the Blue Mountain Center at Blue Mountain Lake, New York in the Adirondack Mountains. The Center exists to provide a peaceful and comfortable environment to work, free from the distractions and demands of normal daily life. I'm here working on a book and hopefully you'll hear more about that in months to come.

This is a cell phone free zone, and I've decided not to use the one payphone that does exist, so I can make a clean break and concentrate. There is limited, and I mean very limited internet access, and the only newspaper that arrives daily is the New York Times, which is VERY popular with the Americans. I really missed Canadian news, so I was pretty excited to get my first letter, from my mother, full of news clippings with her red underlining and editorial commentary in the margins.

From the clippings, I was happy to see the release of Toronto's Vital Signs, 2005, the City's annual report card ( Let's hope it will spur decision makers to deal with some of the City's real problems, like the high number of smog days that contribute to approximately 1700 premature deaths and 6,000 hospital admissions annually.

I was thrilled to learn that 2 Murray Street, a new housing project in Toronto, has been named Vance Latchford Place, commemorating a Regent Park housing activist who died last year. I knew Vance for over 20 years and it's a well-deserved tribute to him. He was a tenacious and loveable advocate for tenants.

I was not happy to see a Toronto Star editorial refer to "misguided" activists (read: doctors and nurses) who, in their "publicity stunt" (read: clinics) were assessing low-income people for the special diet allowance. How short-sighted can they be, I know that nurse Dorothea Palmer was considered worse than "misguided" when she began dispensing birth control information in the 1930s outside of Ottawa.

I was DEEPLY alarmed to learn of the 17 deaths of seniors in a Toronto nursing home from Legionnaire's Disease. It seems, from what I'm reading, there are concerns about the public health management and the media coverage of this outbreak. Two weeks ago this story was front-page news in the United States. What happened in Canada?

Why am I mentioning Legionnaire's Disease? It's just one more example of what can go wrong when people are forced to live in congregate settings. It is just a mater of time before an outbreak like this hits one of our shelters, and I don't think it would stay isolated to that location.

Ironically, I'm not far from the Lake George tragedy, where 21 elderly Americans drowned aboard a New York cruise boat. This event dominated the news, both Canadian and American. Both of these tragedies affected seniors, which makes me wonder what the reaction would have been had they been poor or homeless people?

Now back to the Adirondacks. I'm the only Canadian here. There are 14 residents, 12 American, 1 Columbian who lives in the States, and me. They are here to paint, work on a screenplay, a film, edit a book on human rights, write poetry and oral histories, write a book on social security, create music, a photographic essay and an anti-recruiting comic. We work mostly in solitude during the day and come together for a community meal each evening. You can imagine how lively the conversation can be!

Opportunities for long hikes, canoeing, and exploring Adirondack history are endless. These are kind and caring folks, who seem envious of Canada's health care system, shocked by our state of homelessness, and who frequently remind me they are glad that we're their neighbour. It's been an honour for me to be in their midst.

I'll leave you with a little bit of Adirondack lore, from the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Hamlet, just to let you know that homeless issues are never far from my mind:

"We were cuttin' wood for the Newton Brothers at Raquette Lake....the goddamn bedbugs were so thick on the bunks they were hung all on haywires, each of the  four corners of the bed. And still they'd run the ceiling and jump on you, them friggin' body lice as big as that....."


Happy National Housing Day, November 22

Maybe in honour of the day you could write your MP and Housing Minister Joe Fontana and ask where's the housing?


Subscribe to this newsletter

I plan to publish this newsletter regularly. If you receive this newsletter directly, then your address is already on our mailing list; otherwise, to subscribe or unsubscribe, send a note to . For more information on my work including this and other editions of my newsletter please visit my web page at

There is no charge for this newsletter. Please forward it to your friends and others who you think may be interested in it. I value your feedback and ideas. Please share them with me at or c/o the Sherbourne Health Centre, 365 Bloor Street East, Suite 301, Toronto, ON, M4W 3L4.


Photo: Cathy Crowe at the Federal-provincial-territorial meeting in Gatineau with members of FRAPRU; Photo by Danielle Koyama



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