Seeking Shelter - NRU Publishing

"But while the mayor has not made housing a top priority, other councillors, like Ana Bailão, who chairs the affordable housing committee, are working to make change."

Video from Close the Housing Gap rally in Ottawa, story by Sarah Ratchford

With the city’s latest weather-related emergency in the form of
-40o C temperatures with wind chills, Toronto is urging those
without homes to take shelter. But that may not be such an easy
feat, given the fact that the city’s housing and homelessness
budget has been on the decline for the past four years.

Wellesley Institute housing and innovation director Michael
Shapcott points out that, while mayors in municipalities across
the country have taken on an advocacy role when it comes to
the need for more shelters and aff ordable housing, Mayor Rob
Ford has not. And he says that inaction is hurting some of the
city’s most vulnerable.

Since 2010, the budget for aff ordable housing and
homelessness has dropped by 26 per cent. It was set at
$854-million in 2010, and the recommended budget for
2014, which will go to council later this month, is down to

Shapcott notes that the full blame for the budget cutbacks
should not be placed upon the shoulders of the city—the
dwindling resources are due largely to lack of provincial and
federal funding.

“Nobody is saying Toronto can, or should, replace the
federal and provincial dollars that have been cut, and that we
can somehow magically make that up,” he tells NRU. But, at
the same time, he says the city needs to take on an advocacy
role in asking the province and Ottawa to help provide more
shelter and housing.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact number of homeless
people in Toronto, but according to the city’s 2013 street needs
assessment, the number is an estimated 5,253. Th at includes
those who are living outdoors, and those who use shelters. It
doesn’t, however, always include the hidden homeless—those
who do not have a permanent home, but who couch surf or
live for short periods with family and friends.

Many of the roughly 166,000 on the wait list for affordable
housing fall into the category of hidden homeless, Shapcott says.

But while the mayor has not made housing a top priority,
other councillors, like Ana Bailão, who chairs the affordable
housing committee, are working to make change. Bailão is
not without hope, she says the city has been in conversation
with the province on how to tackle the housing issue, and
Ottawa has promised some additional contributions through
its aff ordable housing investment fund as outlined in the
economic action plan. And while the budget is decreasing, she
says there’s no plan to reduce the number of beds.

“The big challenge this year was the [withdrawal of] money.
We lost over $40-million from the province to the city, and
most of that was [for] housing and shelter,” she tells NRU.

“This is not sustainable, and there has to be a sustainable
solution for this.”

While Bailão does have hope, she says the federal
government’s pledge to invest in aff ordable housing won’t
come close to solving the problem. Previous cuts, she says,
have impacted all forms of aff ordable housing for the worse,
including co-ops.

During emergencies like extreme cold weather, Bailão says
there’s a shortage of space to keep homeless people safe and
warm, not just a shortage of beds. Shelters are considered at
capacity when they’re 90 per cent occupied in order to provide
some leeway. However, she says often, people arrive at shelters
only to be turned away. She says that’s what she’s trying to tackle.

“The [affordable housing] waiting list keeps growing, the
backlog keeps growing. It’s a huge problem.

“We live in a society, and in a city, that I think should be
better at this.” 

Article re-posted from Novae Res Urbis (NRU) Publishing
Printed Friday, January 3rd, 2014
Vol. 18 - No.1 

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