Cathy Crowe




Newsletter No. 28,  October  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. No Direction Home
2. Home – Movies
3. This Ain’t Wonderland ( London speech)

1.  No Direction Home

For those of us who care about the plight of poor and vulnerable populations, these are not good days for people here in Canada . 

On the West Coast, in Vancouver alone, the number of homeless people rose by almost 300 per cent between 2002 and 2005.  It continues to grow at such a fearsome rate that a recently released report says the homeless population could triple again in time for the 2010 Olympic Games.  Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan told CTV News, "It's a civic, and provincial and national shame."

On the East Coast, in St. John's , Newfoundland and Labrador , Canada 's first national conference on youth homelessness took place on September 26 to the 29th.  Young people are one of the fastest-growing groups of homeless with close to 65,000 in this country alone with many thousands more at risk of being homeless.

In Ontario , about 60,000 families are being evicted every year because they can't afford to pay the rent. 

With the man-made disaster of homelessness growing unabated across this county and the atrocities continuing against our poorest and most vulnerable people, I have to say that I was shocked, saddened, amazed, distressed and very angry when Stephen Harper's government recently announced $2 billion in spending cuts, $1 billion from social programs and other projects, the very same day they announced a massive $13.2 billion budget surplus. 

The Canadian Government could have easily brought the disaster of homelessness to an end with the implementation of the 1% solution and the reinstatement of our national housing programme.  Instead, we continue to watch this man-made disaster grow, with no lifeline anywhere to be found. 

On a personal note, I felt very tired and a little devastated by the (lack of) direction this government has for our country.  It is with this in mind that this year’s Toronto International Film Festival was what I really needed to get re-energized, for what would appear to be a very long and frustrating fight ahead.           

2.  Home – Movies

For me, movies have always been about home – whether it is memories of watching black and white movies as a kid with my dad on Saturday afternoons, watching the Wizard of Oz for the umpteenth time (as an adult), or renting a video at home to watch with friends and family.

Last year, after I attended the Toronto International Film Festival, I described the emotional impact that movies can have in my September 2005 newsletter.

Movies can inspire, they can challenge, they can witness and document, they can create nourishment for the mind and soul.  I want to share a number of my favorite viewings from this year’s festival, movies that did some of the above for me.


Away from Her

Director: Sarah Polley, Canada

I have to begin my film fest favorites with Away From Her, the first feature film directed by well known Canadian actor and activist Sarah Polley.  I first met Sarah in 1996 when she agreed to sit on a panel, set up by the Toronto Coalition Against Homelessness, which was established to hear evidence about shelter conditions and the state of homelessness from both homeless people and front-line workers. The resulting report was called ‘One is Too Many’ and Sarah’s sincerity was one of the reasons that significant attention was paid to the report which was a lead up to an inquest into homeless freezing deaths.

Away from Her, based on the short story by Alice Munroe ‘The Bear Came Over the Mountain’ is not about homelessness but it is about loss of home, the things we need to make and keep home, and the challenges to home when home becomes an institution.  I particularly loved the complexities of the ‘nurse’ character – which frustrated me to no end, but portrayed real challenges.

It is worth mentioning that this film stars icons Julie Christie, Gordon Pinset, Michael Murphy and Olympia Dukakis.  If I had to use one word to describe the film it would be ‘exquisite’.

The film will be distributed in 2007 by Lions Gate.


Hana (Full title: Hana Yori Mo Naho)

Director:  Hirokazu Kore-eda , Japan

I am a huge fan of this director, having seen his 1998 film After Life at the Toronto festival.  Hana is Hirokazu Kore-eda’s  first samurai film.  An Edo tenement in the year 1702 is the backdrop for this period piece which tells the story of a cowardly, inept warrior who becomes a hero through his contribution to the community.  It’s a film that weaves themes of moral judgement, individual and community strengths.

I hope it will reach North American audiences.


EMPZ 4 Life

Director: Allan King , Canada

The awkward title, EMPZ 4 Life refers to graffiti seen by the film makers during the shooting of the film.  This documentary, set in the violence plagued community of Malvern, lays bare some of the social issues in this Toronto suburb.  Unlike the media coverage of the ‘Summer of 2005’ that portrayed shootings, gang violence and the need for more police, King shows us some of the layers of social problems in Malvern.  With incredible footage and no narration, he introduces us to a group of youth, their families, determined volunteer outreach workers, and a dedicated mathematician.  None of the suggested solutions are rocket science, it’s just that King shows, in a way we haven’t seen in this media, the desperate need for focused attention, funding and programming for youth.  He inspires hope that the solution to troubled communities lies in something other than police presence.


Sleeping Dogs

Director: Terrance Odette, Canada

Odette is described as having a profound sympathy for the marginalized and the powerless.  He has made two previous films Heater and Saint Monica that had story lines which included poverty and homelessness. His treatment of characters in these two films demonstrates his compassion. 

Sleeping Dogs, set in Kitchener-Waterloo, reaches another level altogether, telling the engaging story of difficult Jarrod, hospitalized for complications of alcoholism, and the intriguing hospital orderly who is relegated to chasing Jarrod when he goes AWOL.  The film has a wonderful sound track, several powerful performances and an ending – well, that is stunning.

Look for indie releases soon.


When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

Director: Spike Lee , USA

We know it’s important to be whistle-blowers before a tragedy occurs but it’s also important to do so afterwards, no matter how many times the truth has been told and no matter what speaking out might do to one’s career.  Spike Lee tells it like it is – for four solid hours, in his documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.   

Lee, in describing his reaction to the catastrophe in New Orleans and his motivation for the movie, said: 

“It was a very painful experience to see my fellow American citizens, the majority of them African-American, in the dire situation they were in.  And I was outraged with the slow response of the federal government.”


In the film, the people themselves speak:

“How hard can that be, to bring in food and water?”

“She drowned in her own home!” - a son describing his mother.

“Not just the levees broke, the spirit broke.”

“Hope is not a job.” (graffiti)

“I want someone to know I’m suffering.”

“Where is my government?”

Pre-Katrina, 30% of the New Orleans population lived below the poverty line.  Lee suggests that class, not just race, was a major contributing factor to the inadequate federal response.  You’ll see in Lee’s film the violent emotional reaction by New Orleans residents when they realize they are being called refugees in their own country.

There are painful similarities between the victims of Katrina and those facing poverty and the housing crisis here in Canada .  Both cases involve purposeful neglect by policy makers and politicians, for example, decisions to not fund infrastructure whether it be levees or housing, and decisions to hold back promised monies.  In both cases huge numbers of people are displaced, dislocated and left to die.


3.  This Ain’t Wonderland  ( London speech)

On that note, there are enough atrocities continuing in this country that in a speech I recently gave in London, I described the images that Lee or a film maker like him might be compelled to document, should he or she create a documentary to show the situation of displaced persons here in Canada. 

Click here to read ‘This Ain't Wonderland’




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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 or c/o the Sherbourne Health Centre, 365 Bloor Street East, Suite 301, Toronto, ON, M4W 3L4.





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