Cathy Crowe




Newsletter No. 33 
April 2007


I've been a street nurse in Toronto for 18 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.

photo: Brandon Teed

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.  Signs of the time 
2.  Counting people as if people count
3.  Spring cleaning 
4.  Book Launch!!!  Dying for a Home.  Homeless Activists Speak Out.

1.  Signs of the time

Some Torontonians were caught off guard this spring when a series of official looking signs started to appear in downtown neighbourhoods.  A number of the signs concerned themselves with homelessness:

“Please keep our streets clean, over 818 people have to sleep on them.”

“Homeless warming grate. Please keep clear Oct. – May.”

“2 Homeless people die every week in Toronto .”

Mark Daye, a 4th year graphic design student at the Ontario College of Arts and Design (OCAD) explains:

“Instead of rebranding a product or service for my 4th year thesis project I chose to represent a local population that usually gets overlooked.  I re-coded official signage and affixed 30 of them to poles in the downtown core with messages pertaining to an obvious but ignored urban sub culture.  The goal was not only to catch people off guard by creating signs that acknowledge the homeless population on a seemingly official level, but to get people to think about codes of behaviour, conformity, acceptance and to maybe spare some consideration for the homeless who live mostly ignored in the city, blending into the background just like the signs.”  

Not surprisingly, the signs were quickly removed by City workers.

Check out the images and the ensuing discussion on Spacing: 

photo by Brandon Teed


2.  Counting people as if people count

Exactly one year ago in my April 2006 newsletter I wrote an article calledCounting the homeless – 67,041 reasons not to.  I argued that we had enough data that quantified homelessness in Toronto and we didn’t need to spend $90,000 on another study that surely was driven by a right-wing agenda at City Hall.  Experienced front-line workers and groups fighting for civil rights expressed concern that the City count would be used against homeless people.  In my July 2006 newsletter I reported on the release of the City’s findings in an article called The Count is In.  The City’s report was released on a Friday afternoon, which is usually indicative of something to hide, and it ultimately made its way through committees with the usual bureaucratic tag attached to it: “there are no financial implications arising from this report.”  This lack of financial commitment to ensure the right to basic shelter for the 818 plus people they ‘counted’ sleeping outside was confirmed by the City’s recent proposed operating budget.  Rather than expand emergency shelter services, the City is proposing an unprecedented cut in shelter spaces and spending

Counting or quantifying the extent of a problem is useful only when it exposes or documents a situation to confront its causes and propose solutions.  In addition, research of this nature is most helpful if it is done in a way that captures the imagination of the public.  Michael Shapcott is probably the most skilled person I know when it comes to accomplishing these challenges.  In his paper titled ‘Fourteen cents a day won’t build many homes’, prepared for the Ontario Alternative Budget, Michael presents us with the facts: 600,000 Ontario households, or 1.7 million men, women and children, or 15% of all Ontarians are in core housing need, 260 households per day faced eviction in Ontario in 2005, and among the groups facing the heaviest housing burden are seniors with more than half of all elderly women living alone in core housing need.  In the face of these facts, the Ontario government spends about 14 cents per person per day on affordable housing, less than half the amount spent in 2000.  Only a fraction of the promised supportive and affordable homes have been built in Ontario , in part due to provincial-federal fighting over fiscal issues.  Michael’s report doesn’t mince words “Poorly-housed Ontarians are being held hostage as federal and provincial politicians squabble.”


The joint Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association (ONPHA) and Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada (CHF) report ‘Where’s Home? 2006: A Picture of Housing Needs in Ontario  (  is also successful at capturing the extent of the housing crisis province wide.  Their report itemizes the dropping vacancy rates in most major cities, for example Sudbury which dropped from an 11% vacancy rate in 1999 to 1.2% in 2006; and the loss of 13,000 rental units over the last ten years due to conversion and demolition.  The report points out that affordability remains a significant factor.  Based on the average income of nine different job types (such as retail sales, teachers, labourers, carpenters, cooks, food servers), the report determined that most workers who are employed in the service industry or unskilled manufacturing cannot afford the average rent in their community.

In addition ‘Where’s Home? 2006’ reminds us that only 5% of Canada ’s housing stock is social or non-market rental housing owned and operated by a public, non-profit or cooperative organization.  It will be surprising to most readers to learn that only two nations have a smaller proportion of social housing stock – New Zealand and the United States . 

Poor and homeless people have been counted many times but do poor and homeless people really count?

For the most part no, not if you look at how our tax dollars are spent.

Although days of national protest and lobbying saved the federal program that funds services for homeless people, the December victory was isolated and tenuous.  The federal government announced $270 million for a two-year extension of the federal homelessness program with a name change.  Previously known as the Supporting Community Partnerships Initiative (nicknamed “skippy” by bureaucrats), the new program is called the Homelessness Partnership Initiative (and has been christened “hippie” by bureaucrats).  In addition, the federal government announced $256 million for a two-year extension of the low-income housing rehab program, but community groups are reporting many problems with the new program and the flow of monies.

7 days in March perhaps best captures the will of policy makers and politicians.  All three levels of government, federal, provincial and municipal, recently presented budgets that severely ignored the needs of homeless and low-income households.

First was the federal Conservative budget on March 19 – ZERO new dollars to help solve the homelessness and housing crisis across the country.  Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's budget speech was entirely silent on homelessness and the hundreds of pages of budget documents barely even mention housing, except to repeat some previously announced spending.  There was minimal media or public criticism of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Flaherty’s decision to disregard Canadian housing needs.

Second was the Ontario Liberal budget on March 22 – ZERO new dollars, only a re-announcement of $392 million previously allocated federal housing dollars; and a 2% increase in social assistance scheduled for November.  Premier Dalton McGuinty and Finance Minister Greg Sorbara essentially sentenced 122,426 households on the social housing waiting lists to more years of waiting.

Third was the City of Toronto ’s proposed operating budget on March 26 - which proposed more cuts to local housing and homelessness spending.  The budget document, prepared in unprecedented secrecy, disallowed the usual community and expert input.  It proposes:

* a $25 million cut in spending for Toronto ’s housing and homelessness programs. The proposed Shelter, Support and Housing Administration budget is set at $692.5 million for 2007, a reduction of $25 million from the 2006 approved budget of $717.8 million.

* a 3.5% cut in homeless shelter beds, which means fewer beds available for people forced out on the streets.

* only 524 new affordable units.  A total of 863 affordable housing units are on the 2007 target list, but 339 of those were on the 2006 list and were not developed, so the number of net new affordable homes is barely above 500, well below the 1,000 target set by City Council.  Keep in mind that there continues to be well over 60,000 households on the affordable housing waiting list here in Toronto .

* $13.5 million cut from public health programs despite growing evidence that additional resources are needed for pandemic planning, infection control and a climate change plan that will need an adequate extreme heat response for vulnerable populations like our seniors as well as people who are homeless.

Carol Goar in the Toronto Star recently reminded us that it is up to citizens, advocacy groups and lobbyists, to ensure that the policy and spending we want to see will actually happen.  You know what to do!

3.  Spring cleaning

Last week I caught myself yelling at the television news.  The number one story I was watching on Global National was about the closing of the Brick Warehouse building in Calgary , a building that was won as a temporary emergency shelter this past December.  The news reported that the Brick building, scheduled to close in May, was closing early to make way for a road widening project.  Apparently even delaying the closing for several days would have jeopardized the road work.  Despite the protestation of a few local Calgarians that it was too cold (snow was still falling), the shelter shut.  Global showed a pregnant woman who after the closing, had been forced to sleep outside.  The news story also showed a Calgary EMS spokesperson justifying the closure because the weather conditions no longer met the -15 degree cold weather bar for keeping emergency shelters open.  That is when I began swearing because I know this righteous sentiment, that suggests the right to emergency shelter is only applicable in extreme winter conditions emerges from ‘ Toronto the Good’.  For some reason communities across the country look to Toronto for ‘best practice’ guidelines around providing shelter, but they should not!  Toronto ’s responses to emergency shelter are archaic and damaging to homeless people’s health and life.  What other city in the country continues to rely on dozens of faith-based facilities, volunteer run programs that operate emergency shelter in the winter months only – twenty years after the program began!  Each spring the City watches, we all watch, as churches and synagogues close their doors.  At the time of writing this newsletter, seventeen Out of the Colds in Toronto have ended their program for another season, with closure dates ranging from March 25 to April 10.  Does the City of Toronto offer replacement emergency shelter spaces come spring?  No.  Does the City of Toronto work with their non-funded faith partners to ensure they will not need to open their doors next winter?  No. 

The conclusion and the policies that suggest emergency shelter is only due to someone in winter is quite simply discriminatory.

I gather that local Calgary agencies are struggling to patch together a response to meet their local needs however they still rely on an Inn from the Cold program which sadly sleeps not only adults but families with children on a nightly basis.   

4.  Book Launch!!!  Dying for a Home.  Homeless Activists Speak Out.

The book I have worked on with homeless friends and colleagues is done.  You can read more about the book at  I hope this book will help you find ways to raise the issues and the solutions with politicians and local leaders in your community.


Thanks to Dave Meslin for research and layout and Bob Crocker for editing.  


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