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March 21, 2000

AN OPEN LETTER TO PRIME MINISTER CHRETIEN

Prime Minister Jean Chretien, House of Commons, Ottawa

Once again, a homeless person has died in Toronto. Jennifer Caldwell, 20-years-old, died violently when a fire roared through her makeshift shelter near downtown Toronto. While she died alone, her death is one of a growing number of homeless people in Toronto.

Recent studies show that as many as two to four homeless people are dying every week. We are bringing to your office some burned articles, including part of her blanket and sleeping bag. Thousands of sleeping bags, blankets and articles of clothing are donated every winter to homeless people to make their lives more comfortable, but these acts of charity are no substitute for a national housing program.

Two decades ago, the federal government funded as many as 30,000 new units of social housing annually. But, in 1993 the federal government stopped funding for new housing. In March of last year, the United Nation's Human Rights Committee reviewed Canada's compliance with Article 6(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which reads: "Every human being has the inherent right to life.

This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life." The U.N. condemned Canada's failure to take action in the housing crisis. Today, the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, the Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain, the Ottawa Alliance to End Homelessness and the National Housing and Homelessness Network held a vigil at the Human Rights Memorial in Ottawa and issued a call to your government to take action.

The Prime Minister's Office is seen by the public as responsible for the health and well-being of its citizens. The public, in its grief, shock and outrage, looks to you, Prime Minister, for empathy and solutions. We call on you today to make an immediate public statement condemning the homelessness disaster and housing crisis in Ontario, Quebec and the rest of Canada.

We urge you to take immediate action to fund a new national social housing program. On December 17th, your government announced a new homelessness strategy including an allocation of $750 million over three years. Ministers Bradshaw and Gagliano, in making the announcement, called it the "first step".

The next step is a fully-funded national housing program. In the name and memory of Jennifer Caldwell and the many others who have died on the streets of Toronto, Ottawa and many other cities, please take that step right away.

Sincerely,
Cathy Crowe, on behalf of TDRC and our allies

For more information, contact TDRC at tdrc@tdrc.net

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