Homelessness in Toronto is Unacceptable!

Reality smacked me in the face yesterday. I always thought I understood the importance of things but when I’m hit with not just strong emotions but strong mental understanding I realize I only superficially “understood.”

I went shopping yesterday. Spent over $100. Birthday presents, a new sweater for myself and 3 books from the amazing World’s Biggest Bookstore that is closing. The guilt I experienced after buying these items was fairly strong.  I tried to relax myself while I walked up to get the streetcar home. When I got to the stop I saw a homeless man sitting against a pole near the stop. I had seen this man there before but hadn’t really thought anything of him.

Homelessness in Toronto

According to the Toronto Street Needs Assessment (2013) there are 5,219 homeless individuals in Toronto. This number has been steadily increasing over the years. People who are homeless on Toronto’s streets are outside for an average of 7.5 years. The number of street homeless is up 24% since 2009.  

Maybe it was because I was feeling bad about buying things or, well, who knows, it doesn’t really matter, but I was hit with an overwhelming sadness and outrage that this man has to be out on the streets. He lives and asks for money on the streets instead of going to work to make his money and going home to a space that he can all his own. Staring is rude but I watched him and couldn’t help but notice that he is probably around my age (25). He looked like a nice man. I wondered if he was lonely. I hoped he had good friends. I hope someone gives a shit that he’s out on the streets when he deserves a home. 

Before I got on the streetcar I gave him all the change I had. He said, “Thank you.” I looked at his face, smiled and said, “Have a nice day.” A few young men after me gave him some cigarettes and a handshake. I’ve been thinking about that man since that moment.

This is the hardest thing about living in Toronto. Having to see the homeless population everywhere. This shouldn’t be happening in this city. Housing is a human right! Toronto’s subsidized housing wait list is 5+ years. Half of the homeless population listed above it on that wait list. I chose not to even try when I was offered once by a social worker to start to the process of getting my own housing. Housing is a human right!

I try to at least smile and make eye contact when I pass a homeless person on the street. I was told by an individual from The Dream Team (psychiatric/survivor group who advocate for support housing) that the homeless individuals he had spoken to said that the worse part of being homeless is people don’t notice you (or don’t want to notice you). I am guilty of trying to pretend that they are not there. I felt bad that I couldn’t do anything so ignoring it made me feel better. Ignoring does nothing! What helps is acknowledging that thy are there, showing them that they are worthy and advocating for change within the city. 


“Where’s the social housing?”- Picture I took Summer 2013
Toronto is currently more concerned with building expensive condos than building affordable housing to house it’s huge homeless and low income population. Toronto builds those condos sometimes where former subsidized housing used to stand.

I’m going to try and do this. Our Mayoral election is coming up in the Fall and the candidates are starting to campaign. Olivia Chow is running. She’ll listen, she’ll understand and she’ll do something. 

We all need to do something. Reality is, is that I could easily be homeless. I do not have the money to sustain myself. If Michael or my parents stopped caring about me or determined I had to figure things out for myself, I would be on the streets. It can be that easy and that fast. 


9 thoughts on “Homelessness in Toronto is Unacceptable!

  1. Great article, Prideinmadness! I live in Richmond, Virginia, and the homeless population is out of control here. In fact I’ve been attending group therapy, for my own needs, at a free clinic that serves the homeless and a lot of my fellow “groupmates” are either homeless or used to be so. I attended theological seminary in Berkeley, California back in the ’80s (before you were born!), and we students used to have to almost step over homeless people sleeping on the grounds on our way to morning classes- homelessness has been a problem in North America for much, much too long. Thanks for raising the issue &
    suggesting we do something about it! . . .

    • Knowing people who have experienced homelessness for any length of time has been a real eye opener for me. I’m glad your groupmates have access to this free program. It’s always felt backwards to me that the people who need support the most are unable to get it for various reasons.

  2. Exactly! It’s the same in NYC, lots of struggle over housing issues. And there are still people on the street who were displaced by Hurricane Sandy, and this week two buildings exploded from a gas leak up in my Dad’s neighborhood…where will those people go(the survivors?)

  3. This post made me think of Dennis Cardiff’s blog, Gotta Find a Home. (or something like that, my memory is failing me). I don’t live in Toronto or Canada, but I have family who live in Mississauga and have taken me into the big city. The homelessness problem is overwhelming and it is everywhere. Good for you for talking about this issue and I look forward to hearing what your contribution is in the next election.

  4. I’m in Toronto as well, in the heart of it near George & Dundas. I fluctuate from feeling so bad for those who are clearly chronically mentally ill (and often drug addicted too) and the hustlers here looking to harm them. I understand security and ID’s, passports and having all your verifiable information like a social insurance number and all that has made our nation a more honest and ‘computer check’ friendly place, but for those without the resources to get these papers, or with no mailing address for an ID or birth certificate, it’s really hopeless. You have to be your own advocate here and that’s hard for someone even in the best mental health.

    • Even with my resources I didn’t have a valid form of photo ID until I was 20 or so (since I don’t drive) and even then it’s not a great idea to carry around your passport so I didn’t get the Ontario photo ID card until last year when I was 24. I ended up having to carry around way too many important documents and cards (ie: birth certificate and SIN card) to prove who I was.

      I agree that we have to be our own advocates and that it is hard, especially when you may be deemed as someone who is incompetent and/or not worthy of being listened to.

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