Reports / Articles

February 2000


The Year 2000 Ontario Budget Priority

TDRC Submission to the Pre-Budget Consultation
Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs
Ontario Legislature
3 February 2000


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’  


  1. The TDRC: Who Are We?

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:

  • Cathy Crowe, RN, Queen West Community Health Centre, a street outreach nurse
  • Beric German, Street Health AIDS Outreach Program
  • David Hulchanski, Professor, Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto
  • John Andras, co-founder of Project Warmth, Vice-President, Research Capital Corp
  • Trevor Gray, AIDS Action Now
  • Brent Patterson, Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange
  • Maurice Adongo Street Health
  • Paula Dolezal, Street Health Mental Health Outreach Program
  • Peter Rosenthal, lawyer and University of Toronto professor
  • Rev. Don (Dan) Heap (Anglican), former MP (Trinity Spadina)
  • Jeannie Loughrey, Anglican Priest, Diocese of Toronto
  • Frank Showler, Member of Board of St. Claire's Inter-faith Housing
  • Sherrie Golden, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
  • Sue Osborne, Housing Support Worker, Cornerstone Women's Residence
  • David Walsh, President Realco Property Ltd.
  • Michael Shapcott, Co-op Housing Federation of Canada - Ontario Region
  • Gaetan Heroux
  • Steve Lane

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 National Housing And Homeless Network (NHHN). and
  • the British Columbia Housing and Homeless Network (BCHHN).

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).

2. The Emergency Declaration

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:

  • Why is this human crisis not treated the same as other crises where people lose their housing and have their family and community networks disrupted, like the ice storm in Quebec and Eastern Ontario, or like the floods in Manitoba?
  • Why are governments not responding to the physical and mental harm, including death, caused by being homeless?
  • Why are they ignoring the spread of disease such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis?
  • Why is it that our public officials fail to recognize that tens of thousands of people without housing and without adequate food and health care constitutes one of the largest and most serious national disasters that Canada has ever faced?

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:

  • serious overcrowding of our day and overnight shelter system;
  • a 38% tuberculosis infection rate among the homeless;
  • clusters of freezing deaths of homeless people;
  • a rise in overall morbidity, including malnutrition;
  • the spread of infectious disease; and
  • a rise in the number of homeless deaths.

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.

4. What does it mean to declare homelessness a Disaster?

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:

  1. Housing: all homeless people require adequate and appropriate housing they can afford.
  2. Income: all homeless people require enough money to live on (e.g., a job, job training, adequate pension or social assistance).
  3. Support Services: some homeless people require support services.

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.

5. Homelessness is a Serious Human Rights Violation

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:

  • the people panhandling for spare change to survive
  • the older men and women shovelling leftover casseroles from a soup kitchen into little plastic bags to take home to their rooming house or squat
  • the wet sleeping bags left in a pile on a street corner
  • the permanent homes erected in alleyways, on grates, in squats, parks and under bridges
  • the church basements that are now open for emergency shelter, filled with people following a path of forced migration from church to church every night of the week in the winter.

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.

7. The Homelessness Disaster: In Ontario

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: :

  • over 300,000 tenant households in Ontario are paying more than 50% of their incomes on rent. Many tenants are at immediate risk of becoming houseless.
  • in most parts of Ontario, tenant incomes are falling even as rents rise faster than inflation.
  • about 16, 000 new rental units are needed annually according to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), but almost no new affordable rental housing is being built.
  • in Barrie, a town representative of many in Ontario, there was a 1, 235% increase in stays at homeless shelters from 1994 to 1998.
  • many, many new cities, towns and regions in the province are opening shelter, conducting studies, convening task forces including Brampton, Muskoka and Peterborough. Peel Region recently endorsed the TDRC Disaster Declaration!
8. Homelessness is Houselessness, period.

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):

1991 Census

    • owners average income, $73,200
    • renters average income, $38,400

1996 Census

    • owners average income, $74,100
    • renters average income, $36,200

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 to 1999
(formerly Metropolitan Toronto)

1989    0.4%

1990    0.8

1991    1.6

1992    2.0

1993    1.9

1994    1.2

1995    0.8

1996    1.1

1997    0.8

1998    0.9

1999    0.9

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.

 10. Homelessness: An ‘Un-natural’ Human-Made Public Policy Disaster

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:

  • Affordable: The 1% Solution is affordable, at about 50 cents per tax payer per day.
  • Modest: Set against the huge and growing need of affordable housing and services, the 1 % Solution is a modest but important proposal.
  • Mainly ‘catch up’ spending: in real terms, the 1% Solution is in fact only replacing the huge amount of money cut out of housing and related programs by the federal government since 1984.
  • Funding for all three parts of the solution: The funds would supply: (1) adequate housing, (2) adequate support services, and (3) adequate jobs, job training and social assistance – thereby ending mass homelessness in Canada.

12. Conclusion: Ontario’s Homeless are not a ‘Special Interest Group’

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.

  • Implement the One Percent Solution.
  • Build the necessary homes.
  • Provide the necessary support services.
  • Provide adequate income support measures.
  • End mass homelessness in Ontario.

 Submitted on behalf of the Steering Committee of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee
3 January 2000

For more information, contact TDRC at

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