Newsletter No. 22 April 2006
I've been a street nurse in Toronto for 17 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.
1. Counting the homeless – 67,041 reasons not to.
2. Ottawa update
1. Counting the homeless – 67,041 reasons not to.
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”
This line from Elizabeth
Barrett Browning’s poem has been stuck in my head since the debate
resurfaced over Toronto’s planned Street
Needs Assessment, also known as the
‘Count’ of homeless people that will take place on April 19.
Historically, proposals to count homeless people in
into Homes and the revamped City by-law that made it illegal for a
homeless person to sleep at
Today, the sides are polarized more then ever, in part due to a growing disconnect between the bureaucrats and politicians in City Hall on one hand, and homeless people, service providers and activists on the other. City Council’s own Homeless Advisory Committee has testily criticized the City’s Shelter Housing and Support staff over many aspects of their approach to homelessness including the proposed ‘Street Needs Assessment’ methodology, their neglect of timely written reports to the committee and genuine consultation on matters.
The count is also resented
and feared because its origins stem from uninformed and biased debate on the
floors of City Council and by the rants on the pages of the
Counts may have been
helpful in other cities (
One has to wonder if the counts, which are supported by provincial and federal governments, are able to use the following words ‘funding… federal… provincial…, government… housing - in their recommendations, if they make any.
Facts and figures can be good things, like counting the ways you love someone, or counting how many housing developments are being built in your community that will provide truly affordable housing for people in need.
When it comes to homelessness there is no end to the facts and figures; reports, inquiries, inquest verdicts, and public testimony; films, documentaries, radio specials and newspaper editorials and features; annual reports, city reports and audited statements; pamphlets, web sites, newsletters and blogs – all spew out just about every fact you could want to know about homelessness.
A few years ago Dri, one of
Here are some numbers really worth counting:
was the number of homeless people in
is the number of 24-hour cooling centres operated by the City of
It’s time to make a quantum leap to the higher numbers.
38 is the percent of shelter users who tested positive for tuberculosis in the 1996 Toronto Public Health TB study.
Numbers aside, there are moral reasons to be concerned about this homeless count. There are also major problems in the quality and appropriateness of the research methodology.
A single point-in-time
count of anything always has gross inaccuracies. Other
counts performed in this manner in
need to concede that all attempts at counting the houseless are doomed to
failure, thanks to insurmountable methodological problems.
There are too many who do not want to be counted, too many places
where the houseless can find a place to stay for a night, and no method at
all for counting those in the ‘concealed houseless’ category.”
The ‘concealed’ homeless, perhaps the single largest group of homeless people, are totally ignored in the City’s proposed count. These people are the singles and families who live in tenuous relationships, doubled up with friends and family. Perhaps it is because they are so hidden that they are not the targets of the City Councillors who demanded this count. After all, they are less likely to panhandle, provoke complaints from business owners or resident’s organizations.
The plan has a major discrepancy in the application of honorariums. Volunteers receive zero dollars. Homeless participants receive a $5 voucher for fast food, even though most researchers in the area of homelessness provide a cash honorarium of at least $20, recognizing the person’s time and knowledge.
Team Leaders receive $100.
We’ve counted enough. Surely my own list suggests more appropriate ways that the City could allocate resources to meet homeless people’s needs while they wait for housing. $90,000 could have bought so much. Food for drop-in centres for example.
As Professor David Hulchanski wrote in ‘A New Canadian Pastime? Counting Homeless People’ in 2000:
“Those who are currently unhoused need to be adequately, affordably and securely rehoused as quickly as possible. Those who are at risk of becoming houseless need measures that will prevent that outcome. We already know more than enough about the nature and magnitude of the problem to embark on rehousing and prevention programs. Addressing ‘homelessness’ is a political problem, not a statistical or definitional problem.”
For more infomormation about the Street Count please visit: www.tdrc.net/street count.htm
You will find the TDRC position paper, Michael Shapcott's deputation to the Community Services Committee and David Hulchanski's policy paper on Counting the Homeless.
Update on the travels
of my Black Bag (my nursing knapsack)
A few weeks ago I returned
Last night a cute young boy (age 8-9 yrs)
shared his own fascination with your work.
He looked through the pack-sack and tried to guess why you had duct
tape, camera, etc. He suddenly
saw the 1% buttons and asked about them. I explained. He was so intrigued.
“Can I take one to do show-and-tell at my school tomorrow?”
The exhibit continues until
Where’s the money?
A week later I was back in
Parliament passed a budget bill in June of 2005 that authorized $1.6 billion over two years for affordable housing. The bill received Royal Assent in July, but the money was never allocated to specific projects or programs. Today a new government holds the purse strings.
This $1.6 billion was for
Aboriginal on and off-reserve housing, new supply, housing redevelopment
Please go to the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee web site to see the action kit for what you can do. www.tdrc.net
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