Newsletter No. 5,
I've been a
street nurse in Toronto for 15 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.
In this newsletter:
1. "How are the Tent City people doing?"
2. My meeting with Joe Fontana, Minister of Housing
3. National Housing Day - November 22
4. Subscribe to This Newsletter
1. "How are the Tent City people doing?"
People often ask me how the Tent City folks are doing. I continue to stay
connected with a number of the former Tent City residents and I’m always so
happy when I run into one of them and hear how happy they are to have their
own place to live, their own fridge to slam, their own toilet to flush!
Several are involved in housing activism with the Toronto Disaster Relief
Committee and have joined TDRC’s Speakers Bureau and Steering Committee. In
fact I’ve asked one of them to leave his warm apartment on the eve of
National Housing Day to join me sleeping outside at the “Great Sleep Out” in
solidarity with other homeless people at Toronto’s City Hall (more on
National Housing Day below!).
A report on this historic success
From Tent City to
Housing - An Evaluation of the City of Toronto's Emergency Homelessness
Pilot Project is now posted on the Shelter, Housing and Support website
of the City of Toronto . If you’re meeting with provincial or federal
elected officials this is an excellent resource (with great photos) to prove
the point that homeless people want housing, can keep housing and that rent
supplements are an immediate means to that end.
with Joe Fontana, Minister of Housing
In October I
flew to Ottawa with Michael Shapcott, Researcher with the Toronto Disaster
Relief Committee and University of Toronto’s Centre for Urban and Community
Studies, to meet with Housing Minister Joe Fontana, who also has
responsibility for the federal homelessness strategy. Until this summer, the
homelessness minister was Claudette Bradshaw, and the housing file was held
by a series of ministers (including Alfonso Gagliano, who is in the papers a
lot these days due to the sponsorship scandal). We were joined by Minister
Fontana’s Parliamentary Secretary Judi Longfield, along with the senior
bureaucrats from the National Homelessness Secretariat and Canada Mortgage
and Housing Corporation, plus several policy advisers.
Compared to other meetings I’ve had with federal ministers responsible for
housing, Minister Fontana seemed to have a strong grasp on the need for
federal investment in “social” housing (and he asked us to use that language
as opposed to “affordable” housing!). He expressed a strong belief that
everyone deserved a home. The Minister accepted Michael and my invitation to
come to Toronto and partake in a tour of our local situation. He is
particularly interested in looking at innovative housing programs.
Unfortunately, he was not able to share with us any news of additional
housing monies in the Spring 2005 Budget.
Well Minister Fontana came to town last week (November 5) but I didn’t seem
him. He did a bit of spending – just a bit. The federal and Ontario
governments announced $8.7 million for 325 affordable housing units in a
joint announcement. This, along with the estimated $10 million that has
already been announced, means that the federal and provincial governments
have committed about 2.5% of the $732 million that they have promised over
the past three years for new affordable housing in Ontario. Between 84 and
170 of the 325 new homes announced today will be geared to low-income
people. None are in Toronto.
The announcement of an additional $8.7 million in federal and provincial
affordable housing spending for 325 units brings to an estimated $19 million
the total housing spending in the province over the past three years. In
2001, the federal government promised to spend $244.1 million on new
affordable housing in Ontario over five years. In 2003, the federal
government added $122 million. The province agreed to match that funding.
During the 2003 provincial election, the “Strong Communities” platform of
the McGuinty Liberals stated: “We will match federal support to create
almost 20,000 new housing units for needy Ontario families.”
Well, where’s the money? All the more reason to keep reading.
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Housing Day - November 22
On October 8, 1998 the Toronto Star headline read: “Plight of the homeless a
national disaster.” That morning the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee
issued a call for emergency relief dollars and for the 1% solution – a
national housing programme.
Each year we mark November 22 as National Housing Day. This is the day in
1998 when the Big City Mayors’ Caucus of the Federation of Canadian
Municipalities endorsed the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee’s declaration
that homelessness was a national disaster. A number of communities are
holding events on or near to this day and they are noted on the web site of
It’s worth looking at the 1998 declaration:
The State of Emergency Declaration
“We call on all levels of government to declare
homelessness a national disaster requiring emergency humanitarian relief. We
urge that they immediately develop and implement a National Homelessness
Relief and Prevention Strategy using disaster relief funds both to provide
the homeless with immediate health protection and housing and to prevent
further homelessness. Canada has signed the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights guaranteeing everyone’s right to "an
adequate standard of living… including adequate food, clothing and housing."
Homeless people have no decent standard of living; our governments are
violating these Human Rights. Despite Canada ’s reputation for providing
relief to people made temporarily homeless by natural disasters, our
governments are unwilling to help the scores of thousands of people in
Canada condemned to homelessness. Morally, economically, socially, and
legally, we cannot allow homelessness to become "normal" in Canadian life.
Inaction betrays many thousands of us to a miserable existence and harms our
society for years to come.” (available at
We continue to wait, impatiently, for a political solution, a fully
funded national housing programme. In the meantime, homeless deaths
increase, tuberculosis continues to erupt – now infecting workers, and new
emerging threats such as bedbug infestations in shelters wreak havoc in
people’s lives .
Never has the emergency been more desperate.
What you can do…
At the end of November, the federal housing minister will be meeting with
his provincial and territories’ counterparts. Please let your local elected
officials on the provincial and federal scene know that you want to see some
serious action and spending on housing. Phone, fax, write, email them or
better yet request a meeting to tell them in person!
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Street East, Suite 301, Toronto, ON, M4W 3L4.
Photo Credit: Michelle Vella Photography