Human contact key to reform

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial
Published On Mon Jun 21 2010

There are systems in place to protect vulnerable people, like 82-year-old Al Gosling, from being wrongly kicked out of city-subsidized housing. But those systems aren’t well-understood by many tenants or even by Toronto Community Housing Corp. staff, according to a report of an inquiry into Gosling’s eviction and subsequent death.

Gosling was forced to pay a heavy price for that information gap: he lost his home and, eventually, his life. In his 90-page report released last week, former chief justice Patrick LeSage makes detailed recommendations for preventing such tragedies. Foremost among them is an insistence on better staff training and on face-to-face contact with tenants before any evictions are carried out. Gosling might be alive today if only someone had met him and helped him with his paperwork.

Pushed from his subsidized bachelor apartment last June after failing to keep up with documentation verifying his low-income status, Gosling lived for a week in the stairwell of the building. On being taken to a homeless shelter, Gosling became gravely ill and died at Toronto General Hospital four months following his eviction.

Toronto Community Housing officials realized their mistake and found a new home for Gosling, but he died before ever seeing it. To its credit, the city-owned housing company asked LeSage to conduct an independent review of what went wrong.

LeSage found that the housing company relies too heavily on letters in its dealings with tenants. These missives “are confusing and excessive in number and tone,” reported LeSage. “The current strategy of sending to tenants a constant stream of letters, some of which use threatening language, needs to change.”

He also urged creation of a new Commissioner of Housing Equity at the corporation, “with sufficient staffing and resources” to mediate disputes and help sort out rent arrears. This is an interesting idea that warrants further study.

The housing company’s board of directors is to meet at the end of this month to consider the report, but the organization has already pledged to move immediately on increasing face-to-face contact with tenants and improving staff training. That’s an encouraging response. One hopes that Al Gosling did not die in vain.

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