Reports / Articles
TDRC Submission to the
1. The TDRC: Who Are We?
2. The Emergency Declaration
3. Why is homelessness a Disaster?
4. What does it mean to declare homelessness a Disaster?
5. Homelessness is a Serious Human Rights Violation
6. The Homelessness Disaster: In Toronto
7. The Homelessness Disaster: In Ontario
8. Homelessness is Houselessness, period.
9. Toronto’s Housing Conditions
10. Homelessness: An ‘Un-natural’ Human-Made Public Policy Disaster
11. The One Percent Solution
12. Conclusion: Ontario’s Homeless are not a ‘Special Interest Group’
The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee is a group of social policy, health care and housing experts, academics, business people, community health workers, social workers, AIDS activists, anti-poverty activists, people with homelessness experience, and members of the faith community.
We have worked with homeless people, studied homelessness, served on numerous committees and task forces, and have watched the homeless crisis worsen daily. We have bandaged the injuries caused by being homeless and have attended the funerals of many people.
Our founding members are:
Each member brings their specific experience and expertise to the collective efforts of the TDRC. Together we cover a wide range of the related issues and speak for a large and broad community. This community includes people who are or who have experienced homelessness, frontline workers, activists and concerned citizens and, though centred in Toronto, spreads across the country. Our work has led directly to the formation of at least two other organizations, working hard and fast to end homelessness and ease the housing crisis:
The TDRC is endorsed by over 400 organizations, including the city councils of Toronto, Ottawa-Carleton, Nepean and Vancouver, the Big City Mayors’ Caucus of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Federal Caucus of the National Democratic Party, the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (CHRA), the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, the National Anti-Poverty Association, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Auto Workers, and the Canadian Health Coalition and the Children’s Aid Society (Toronto).
By endorsing the TDRC, these city councils, national organizations and citizens of Canada indicate their support for our declaration that homelessness in Canada is a National Disaster. Our Emergency Declaration reads:
"That the Provincial and Federal Governments be requested to declare homelessness a national disaster requiring emergency humanitarian relief and be urged to 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."
We are encouraging all people, organizations and levels of government to explicitly recognize homelessness as a disaster and to immediately take appropriate action in all communities throughout the country. We urge the federal government to declare homelessness a national disaster.3. Why is homelessness a Disaster?
We have asked ourselves these questions:
Disasters, natural or man-made, are not restricted to countries in the tropics, but their consequences are similar.
The evidence that the crisis of homelessness in this city, this province and in this country has become such a disaster started to accumulate in late 1995 and early 1996. This included:
A recent study, conducted by Dr. Stephen Huang of St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto’s Medical School, found that homeless men aged 18-24 had a mortality rate 8 times than the general population and men aged 25-44 had a mortality rate 4 times as high. This is unacceptable.
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. We urge you, the federal government to mobilize in the face of this Homeless Disaster, and come to the aid of this one’s victims - before the next person dies.
Declaring homelessness a National Disaster and Emergency allows all levels of government to immediately implement Emergency Humanitarian Relief and Prevention Measures.
The strategy must provide the homeless with immediate health protection and housing and it must institute measures that prevent further homelessness. In any disaster, people are provided with emergency assistance. Then permanent measures are implemented.
The solution to homelessness – its elimination and prevention -- is:
The first such measure must be a massive reinvestment in the construction of affordable housing. Money spent providing expensive services to people without a place to live is money down the drain.
All human rights violations are acts that disregard human dignity and the rule of law.
The moral and ethical codes of the World’s religions, international law, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and federal and provincial human rights legislation, oblige Canadians and Canadian governments to refrain from acts, omissions, or other measures that result in violations of human rights.
The very existence of people who do not have any housing is by itself a most serious human rights violation.
In December 4, 1998 the United Nation’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva, in its review of Canada’s compliance, issued its strongest criticism ever of any Western nation’s human rights record.
This severe criticism of Canada reminds all nations that the failure to address and prevent homelessness is a most serious human rights violation.
Eight paragraphs in the Committee’s report on Canada refer to homelessness. One refers to the Toronto Disaster Relief’s national disaster declaration.
24. The Committee is gravely concerned that such a wealthy country as Canada has allowed the problem of homelessness and inadequate housing to grow to such proportions that the mayors of Canada's ten largest cities have now declared homelessness a national disaster.
34. The Committee is concerned that the State Party did not take into account the Committee's 1993 major concerns and recommendations when it adopted policies at federal, provincial and territorial levels which exacerbated poverty and homelessness among vulnerable groups during a time of strong economic growth and increasing affluence.
In March 1999 the TDRC submitted a detailed report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. This is the other of the two major human rights review committees within the UN The TDRC report had a clear and blunt title:
Death on the Streets of Canada: A Report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee Regarding Compliance with Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by Canada.
This report helped draw the UN Committee’s attention to homelessness, resulting in the following comment in the Committee’s final report on Canada:
"12. The Committee is concerned that homelessness has led to serious health problems and even to death. The Committee recommends that the State party take positive measures required by article 6 to address this serious problem."
In addition, there was enough evidence of the role public policy has played in Canada’s homelessness disaster for an embarrassed Canadian Government delegation to promise the UN to hold Parliamentary hearings into the human rights concerns of the Committee. The UN Committee explicitly reminded the Government of Canada of this promise in the third paragraph of its final report, issued on April 7, 1999.
"3. The Committee welcomes the delegation's commitment to take actions to ensure effective follow-up in Canada of the Committee's concluding observations and to further develop and improve mechanisms for ongoing review of compliance of the State Party with the provisions of the Covenant. In particular, the Committee welcomes the delegations' commitment to inform public opinion in Canada about the Committee's concerns and recommendations, to distribute the Committee's concluding observations to all members of Parliament and to ensure that a parliamentary committee will hold hearings of issues arising from the Committee's observations."
The Canadian government has not kept its promise.
Societies with homeless people amidst great prosperity have established and are maintaining homeless-creating processes - day-to-day `normal’ mechanisms which result in people becoming unhoused and remaining unhoused, often for long periods of time. These are dehousing processes. The most basic human rights of a group of people within our communities are being violated.
We cannot sit idly by and let this misery and death continue. The time to act is now.6. The Homelessness Disaster: In Toronto
In Toronto the Disaster is flourishing. You will see it in a hundred ways every day, including:
There is no longer enough room in Toronto’s emergency hostel system to provide safe shelter for this Disaster’s victims. On many nights the City reports that the hostels are "totally full." It is dangerous and unhealthy to run any shelter system at 100%+ capacity.
However, despite the horrendous overcrowded conditions in Toronto’s shelters, people are so desperate to get off the streets that during a recent rainstorm an overnight emergency shelter had to take in 126 people, far more than the 80 they are set up to handle. People were crowded elbow to elbow, some sleeping on mats, while others were left on the concrete floor. Staff had to refuse to admit anyone else and people heard pounding on the door and screaming outside.
In Toronto, the largest growing group of people suffering in this Disaster are children and families. The Report of the Mayor’s Homelessness Action Task Force, released a year ago, tells us that families make up 46% of the people using Toronto hostels in 1996. The Children’s Aid Society of Toronto found that lack of adequate housing was a significant issue for almost 1 in 5 of the children coming into their care.
Across Ontario, this Homeless Disaster has left a visible trail of death. October’s issue of the "Mortem Post" cautions coroners in Ontario to consider homelessness as a factor as they proceed in their investigation, autopsies and inquests.
And the housing crisis looms ever larger in Ontario, bringing more and more people to the brink of homelessness and then onto the province’s streets. Where’s Home, the most thorough study with the latest data available on housing conditions currently available, tells us that: :
The one thing all homeless people have in common is that they are unhoused.
Ontario’s homeless were all once housed, most of them adequately housed.
Today many thousands are unhoused. Half of the 5,000 people who slept in Toronto’s shelters last night were families. About 1,000 were children.
Affordable housing is the key to ending homelessness and easing the housing crisis in Ontario. Research in all jurisdictions concludes that the availability of long term affordable rental housing is the solution for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
A major research initiative, taking about ten years to complete, published as "Predictors of Homelessness Among Families in New York City" (American Journal of Public Health, 1998) found, amongst other things, that regardless of the specific personal histories and/or contexts of homeless people lives, over 80% of homeless families remained housed after five years, in contrast to only 20% who did not obtain subsidized housing.
Homelessness is the fallout of the twin problems of affordability and supply. Build enough affordable housing and return to more equitable social assistance levels and you will house the vast majority of Ontario’s homeless people.9. Toronto’s Housing Conditions
It is difficult for any low- or moderate-income household to find adequate, appropriate and affordable housing in Toronto.
Toronto’s Rental Sector
Rent increases have been gradual but continuous over the past decade. The average rent for a two bedroom apartment, for example, has increased by 38% between 1989 and 1998 (compared to an inflation increase of 21%). The Ontario government’s new landlord/tenant legislation, the abolition of controls on apartment demolition and conversion, and the decision to gut the Human Rights Code’s protection from discrimination (allowing the use of minimum income criteria), means that rental housing will become even more scarce and more expensive.
Household Income Trends in Toronto
Household income among renters has not kept pace with inflation and the gap between average renter and owner household incomes continues to grow. The following household income averages are from the 1991 Census and the 1996 Census for the City of Toronto (formerly Metropolitan Toronto):
During the five years between the 1991 Census and 1996 Census average renter incomes fell by 6% while average income for owners increased by 1.3%.
Though housing consumers are divided into these two groups (owners and renters), the land and housing markets are not. There is one market for both, and owners, with the higher incomes, set the prices. The low average incomes among renters means that it is no longer economical to build new rental housing, except at the upper end of the market – though this part of the market is now mainly served by condominium apartments that are offered for rent. This is why the Ontario Government’s housing policy – let the market build the rental housing we need – is a predictable failure. The market cannot build and make money in the rental sector.
Toronto’s Vacancy Rates
Low vacancy rates are supposed to be the housing market signal for investors to build more rental housing. However, vacancy rates have been very low for more than two decades in Toronto. They were less than one percent through most of the 1980s, increasing to two percent in the early 1990s and then falling back again.
Vacancy Rates in the City of Toronto, 1989
Source: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
Rental Housing Construction in Toronto
Most of the rental housing built over the past ten years has been social housing – municipal, private and co-operative non-profit housing subsidized by the federal and provincial governments. However, the federal government ceased funding any new social housing in 1993 and the Province of Ontario did the same in 1995. Thus, there are no longer any new social housing starts and there are very few private sector rental starts.
Rental Housing Completions in the City of Toronto,1984 to 1998 (formerly Metropolitan Toronto)
Private Assisted Rental as
Rental Rental Total % of Total
1984 2086 2279 8284 52.6%
1985 1260 1117 6170 38.5%
1986 1208 1725 7291 40.2%
1987 188 1101 6933 18.6%
1988 1409 1329 6188 44.3%
1989 1010 2193 13686 23.4%
1990 1532 1182 9939 27.3%
1991 743 1605 8779 26.8%
1992 278 2403 6370 42.1%
1993 22 5834 7168 81.7%
1994 132 2443 4106 62.7%
1995 164 1308 3077 47.8%
1996 98 1543 5790 28.3%
1997 94 861 5570 17.2%
1998 114 0 4382 2.6%
Source: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
Why are there so many (or any) houseless destitute people in Ontario? Did the weather or an earthquake cause the problem? Did they all choose to move out of their houses, give up their jobs, and live on the streets?
Federal and provincial government policy has played the major role in causing the severity of the destitution we see in all of Ontario’s urban and rural communities.
The lack of affordable housing, the lack of enough money to live on, and the lack of adequate support services (for mental illness, addictions, etc.) are the factors that push impoverished individuals and households over the edge.
The Ontario Government must engage in a major reinvestment effort in affordable housing programs and related support services. This is far cheaper than the cost of emergency shelters and costly emergency services.
In 1995 the Ontario Government told us that the private sector would build the rental housing we need. Private sector rental housing starts in Ontario have averaged 857 units per year for the four years 1995 to 1998. In the previous four years the average number built per year was 2,768 (1991 to 1994). The number of private sector rental starts was even higher in the years prior to 1991.
Private Sector Rental Housing Starts in Ontario
1988 10,863 1991 5,407 1995 550
1989 9,789 1992 2,273 1996 931
1990 6,971 1993 2,023 1997 773
1994 1,368 1998 1,174
So, where is the market response to the Ontario Government’s policy of relying on the market?
Social housing starts peaked in 1992 with 15,667 affordable non-profit housing units built by the federal and provincial governments. First the federal government stopped supplying social housing in 1993, then the Province of Ontario in 1995.
There were no social housing starts over the past three years in Ontario.
In the years from 1988 to 1994 a total of 40,183 social housing units were built – an annual average of 5,740 units.
It is government policy that has failed to provide adequate affordable housing at the very time renter household’s incomes are falling in real (inflation adjusted) terms.
In 1995, the Ontario Government not only ceased funding any new social housing it cancelled commitments on 17,000 co-op and non-profit housing units that had been approved for development. At the current rate of private rental housing starts, about 850 units per year, it will take 20 years to see 17,000 rental starts in the province. And these will not likely house any low or moderate income renters.
For three years there have been zero social housing starts in Ontario. If the 1988 to 1994 average rate of social housing production of 5,740 units had been maintained, there would be additional 17,220 affordable rental units.
The Toronto Mayor’s Homelessness Action Task Force identified a need for a minimum of 5,000 supportive housing units in the City (1,000 per year for five years). We are now into the second year and only 40 units have been provided.
The ‘leave it to the market’ excuse for ending social housing provision cannot work. How long will the Ontario Government allow near zero rental starts for the 37% of the Province’s households who are tenants?11. The One Percent Solution
The single most important thing that we can all do to end homelessness in Ontario and in Canada is to implement local, provincial and national housing supply and support service strategies. At this point in time, Canada is the only industrialized country not to have a senior level government (federal/provincial) housing policy.
To fund a housing strategy the TDRC proposes the One Percent Solution -- that all levels of government spend an additional one percent of their existing total budgets on housing.
The One Percent Solution is based on a calculation of the combined spending of all levels of government -- federal, provincial, territorial and municipal. Add up the amount of money all levels of government are spending on housing and it equals about one percent of overall government spending. This money current provides a range of housing supports, including affordable housing for 650,000 households (about 5.5% of the entire country’s housing stock).
The One Percent Solution calls for a doubling of this effort. That means, in simple terms, that every government needs to double what it is currently spending on housing. This can be phased in over a three to five year period. The One Percent Solution is not based on one percent of any particular government's spending, but one percent of all governments' spending.
On average, in 1994-95, the federal, provincial and municipal governments of Canada spent $3.83 billion out of a total of $358 billion dollar budget on housing.
Introducing the One Percent Solution would not only substantially increase the number of housing units but would also increase the support services for people who need housing. There would be funding for new construction, renovation of existing units and subsidies for people on low incomes.
Hundreds of organizations and institutions across Canada have endorsed the One Percent Solutions and have sent letters of support to senior members of your government. They include the Canadian Housing Renewal Association (CHRA), Canadian Pensioners Concerned, Science For Peace, The Faculty of Nursing at the University of Toronto, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, the Co-op Housing Federation of Canada and the Federal NDP Party. The outpouring of letters from individual supporters continues to be overwhelming.
Summing up, The One Percent Solution is:
The homeless and underhoused in Ontario do not constitute a "special interest group." We are not asking for favours or charity. Adequate and affordable shelter is not a luxury. It is a basic human right that is being denied far to many people in the Province right now. You, the Ontario Government, have the means to change that. We urge you to act, and to do so immediately. It is your responsibility to address these problems and crises. No one else has the means to do so. We, the people of Ontario, through are government, have both the means and the responsibility to act now. For you do to anything else, and for us to proceed in any other context, is to misinterpret why we elect governments in the first place.
Submitted on behalf of the Steering Committee of the Toronto
Disaster Relief Committee
For more information, contact TDRC at email@example.com