Reports / Articles
November 9, 1999
House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance
I The Toronto Disaster Relief
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:
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 centered 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 British Columbia Housing and Homeless Network (BCHHN) and the National Housing And Homeless Network (NHHN).
Currently 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.
For your reference, I have attached a copy of our "State of Emergency Declaration" booklet and list of our endorsers.
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: 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. Steven Huang of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, showed 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.
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. The first such measure must be a massive reinvestment in the construction of affordable housing. Other important measures are the funding of necessary support services and adequate social assistance.
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 hu man rights violation. 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 section of our community are being violated. Again, we cannot sit idly by and let this misery and death continue. The time to act is now.
Attached you will find the report the TDRC submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee regarding Canada’s compliance with Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, "Death on the Streets of Canada," and the Committee’s response, dated April 7 1999, in which they condemn Canada’s record in regards to homelessness. Also attached is a copy of the proceeding of a "People’s Court," held in Toronto last December, "Homeless People v. the Government of Canada and the Government of the Province of Ontario," in regards to both governments violations of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
II The Homelessness Disaster
A - Snapshots from the Disaster sites
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. John Jagt, Toronto’s Director of Hostel Services, reported on September 22 that the hostels were "totally full." It is dangerous and unhealthy to run any shelter system at 100+ capacity. Attached you will find our position paper, "Why Open the Armouries" that explains why this is so. However, despite the horrendous overcrowded conditions in Toronto’s shelters, people are so desperate to get off the streets that during one rainstorm last month an overnight emergency shelter had to take in 126 people, far more than the 80 or so 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, led by Dr. Anne Golden and funded by federal monies, released this past January, tells us that families make up 46% of the people using Toronto hostels in 1996.
In 1990 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. You will find the summary of this study attached. The workers at the Children’s Aid Society, Toronto assure us that this proportion has only increased in the last 9 years since the study was conducted.
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, (sponsored by the Ontario Non Profit Housing Association, CHFC - Ontario Region and Putting Housing Back on the Public Agenda,) tells us that:
Conservative estimates of the number of people who are homeless in Canada are around 200,000 - that is 1 in 153 Canadians. Homeless people suffering as victims of this Disaster across Canada face the same risks: tuberculosis infection (it is up at 38% in some shelter populations); 6 times the risk of HIV infection; depression; post traumatic stress disorder; starvation (!); and death.
People are dying from homelessness across the country. In Toronto, front-line workers and corners alike report an average of 2 deaths per week. This past September Anishnawbe Street Patrol found a homeless person dead in Nathan Phillips Square. In Halifax 14 women have died in the shelter system in the last 3 years. And they are dying in Ottawa too. As of October 4, 1999 Ottawa has lost at least 43 people to homelessness. Last March Lynn Marie Bluecloud, pregnant, froze to death in a park in view of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill itself.
B - Homelessness is about lack of housing, period.
The only thing homeless people have in common is that they are unhoused. Affordable housing is the key to ending homelessness and easing the housing crisis in Canada. Research in all jurisdictions including Canada and the United States clearly concludes that the availability of long term affordable rental housing is the solution of 80% of the people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Attached you will find the press release (and selected text from the American Journal of Public Health in which it appeared) announcing a recent and well regarded New York University study, "Predictors of Homelessness Among Families in New York City," that found, amongst other things, regardless of the specific personal histories and/or contexts of homeless people lives, almost all remained "stably housed" when they received appropriate housing.
Homeless 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 Canada’s homeless people in one fell swoop.
C - Homelessness: A Man-Made Policy Disaster
The following is a select chronology of federal policy decisions made since 1984 that have directly led to Canada’s current Homeless Disaster and housing crisis.
1984 November Economic Statement - recently elected Mulroney government announces cuts of $217.8 million over seven years to non-profit, rural and native housing
1985 New federal housing programs - new program cost-shared with provinces; second unilateral federal program based on index-linked mortgages
1986 Federal Budget - cuts of $80.3 million over seven years from rental RRAP and other housing funds
1989 Federal Budget - cut of $146 million over five years to rental RRAP
1990 Federal Budget - cut new housing commitments by 15% and reduced housing research budget for total cuts of $58.4 million
Liberal Task Force on Housing - national Liberal Task Force on Housing calls for "national vision" and "national direction" on housing and homelessness
1991 Federal Budget - continued 15% cut on new housing commitments, reduced operating and research budget for housing, for total cuts of $54.8
1992 Federal Budget - development of new co-ops canceled , more cuts to other social housing, research cuts, total cuts of $600 million over five years
Economic and Fiscal Statement - further caps on new social housing
1993 Federal Budget - canceled development of new non-profit housing and more research cuts for total cuts of $600 million over five years
1994 Federal Budget - first Martin budget, but no new funds for social housing, despite commitments of Martin’s Liberal Task Force on Housing
Federal Budget - federal
government announces plan to abandon social housing by transferring
administration of federal programs to provinces and territories
1999 Homelessness Minister - the first federal homelessness minister, Claudette Bradshaw, is appointed; she heads out on a cross-country tour
Sources: Prof. Tom Carter (Winnipeg), Prof. David Hulchanski (Toronto),
Alexandra Wilson, Joan Selby and Michael Shapcott (CHF Canada)
III National Problem, National
Many have spoken of the role the federal government and its policies have played in the creation of the current housing and homelessness crisis. They have, and will continue to speak, of how the crisis is not isolated in Toronto alone but is truly a "made in Canada" problem which demands Canada-wide solutions. The responsibility the federal government has to provide the affordable and supportive housing that is needed to end the Homeless Disaster, not only by housing its current victims, but by also preventing further people from becoming homeless, cannot be overstated.
We are here today to make recommendations on how the federal government should budget its money in the upcoming years. Our message is simple: spend money on housing. The citizens of Canada need their government to spearhead a massive reinvestment in affordable housing programs and related initiatives, such as appropriate supports and just levels of social assistance, to end homelessness. All levels of government need to be involved in the solution, and this is your chance to stop the jurisdictional squabbling that has only led to a paralysis in terms of solutions.
The One Percent Solution
The single most important thing that we can all do to end homelessness in Canada is to implement a National Housing Strategy. At this point in time, Canada is the only industrialized country not to have a national housing policy.
To fund a national 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. The One Percent Solution calls for a doubling of this overall number. That means, in simple terms, that every government needs to ** double ** what it is currently spending on housing. 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. Currently, the federal government alone spends
about $2 billion on housing and related initiatives left over from before
the cuts started in 1984. Therefore, The One Percent Solution requires
you to allocate an additional $2 billion to housing - to the creation of new
affordable housing supply programs and related homeless initiatives.
In taking the lead in implementing a national housing strategy based on the One Percent Solution the federal government would also bring the provinces back into supplying affordable housing. In Ontario, doubling the amount spent on housing in Ontario would make approximately 1.75 billion dollars available.
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.
The One Percent Solution campaign is roughly on the same scale as the funding and targets the National Housing Options Paper of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), which we therefore support. The FCM housing proposal is estimated at this point to cost about 2 billion dollars. The National Housing Policy Options Paper sets a target of 700,000 units over ten years - that's 20,000 new affordable units annually, 10,000 new rehabilitated units annually and 40,000 new "relief of affordability" units annually (that is, rent supplement or shelter allowance units).
Summing up, The One Percent Solution is:
The homeless and underhoused in Canada 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 Canada right now. You, the federal government, have the means to change that - and we urge that you act to do so immediately. It is your responsibility to address the problems and crises of the collective. 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.
1 in 153 of us are without homes - and this is not because 1 in 153 of us are drug addicts, disabled, insane or made "bad choices" - it is because there are simply not enough good homes out there that we can afford.
The past three decades have known many housing success stories across the country. We have a wealth of knowledge about how to provide good housing and support services; we lack only the resources to get the job done and end the suffering that homeless people in Canada face in the streets and shelters every day. You must take the lead. The recent Throne Speech from Ottawa was not strong enough on homelessness. We are worried that the federal government plans to continue to act irresponsibly in the face of the Homeless Disaster and do nothing. Inaction such as this betrays many thousands of people to a miserable existence and harms our society for years to come. Morally, economically, socially and legally, we cannot allow homelessness to become a "normal" part of Canadian life. The federal government must take the lead and ACT NOW so that it does not do so.
I leave you with the following words:
Canada is presently confronted with a major housing crisis. In recent months, this Task Force has heard from every region of this country and everywhere the message is the same: the situation is critical; and immediate action is necessary to correct the problem. Every part of the country is faced with difficulties related to its particular circumstances.
The federal government has abandoned its responsibilities with regards to housing problems...The housing crisis is growing at an alarming rate and the government sits there and does nothing; it refuses to apply the urgent measures that are required to reverse this deteriorating situation...The federal government’s role would be that of a partner working with other levels of government, and private and public housing groups. But leadership must come from one source; and a national vision requires some national direction...[the federal government must be the] vigorous leader of [these] comprehensive efforts [because] only the national government has the financial resources to address the full dimensions of the needs of this country.
These are the words of your own Finance Minister Paul Martin, written in 1990 in his report, with MP Joe Fontana, "Finding Room: Housing Solutions for the Future, Report of the National Liberal Caucus Task Force on Housing."
We urge you listen and respond to these words, remembering that the situation has only gotten dramatically worse in the last 9 years. Take the strong action they demand and designate massive new funding, a minimum of 2 billion dollars, in the next budget for a National Housing Strategy. Do this and you will all be heros for generations to come.
Submitted respectfully by Kira Heineck, Co-ordinator, Toronto Disaster Relief Committee
For more information, contact TDRC at email@example.com