Long line waiting for housing in Toronto

TheStar.com – GTA – Long line waiting for housing in Toronto
April 27, 2008. Francine Kopun, Feature Writer

If Toronto is serious about fighting homelessness, it must make saying “Not In My BackYard” a taboo, a housing forum has been told.

“The city has to take a strong enough stand against NIMBYs that they realize it’s not okay to speak that way,” Angie Hains, executive director of Ecuhome Corporation, said yesterday during a meeting to discuss how to get people off the streets and into their own homes.

And for any assistance program to work, those people who move into new housing will need to get ongoing help from social agencies and the community as they adjust to their new lives.

“Supports are the foundation of houses,” said Cynthia Kiy, manager of support services for Covenant House. “Without them, the houses are as flimsy as tents in the park. That’s how I feel.”

Hains was one of about 200 housing and social welfare advocates to attend the meeting to discuss Toronto’s 10-year, $469-million-a year Housing Opportunities Toronto (HOT) – An Affordable Housing Framework 2008-2018.

The consultation document, released by the city last fall, targets 200,000 individuals and families for help over the next decade. It proposes finding ways to house the city’s homeless; repair social housing and help low-income families struggling to pay rent or buy their first home. It calls for public and private partnerships to finance the effort.

The meeting yesterday was open to stakeholders in the system. Three public meetings are planned over the next few weeks with an eye to drafting a concrete plan to be submitted to city council by November.

“We are at what I would consider an opportune time. Politically and bureaucratically speaking, everyone is ready for the necessary changes,” said Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, chair of the city’s affordable housing committee, in his brief opening address.

Mayor David Miller has repeatedly voiced strong support for improving affordable housing in the city. He was scheduled to attend the meeting but cancelled due to the TTC strike.

He faces a formidable task: Nearly 67,000 Toronto households are on waiting lists for housing and a federal funding program for housing and homelessness, launched by the previous Liberal government, expires in March. If funding isn’t renewed, Ontario will lose $368 million in funding.

The 200 people at the meeting yesterday, held at Metro Hall, spent most of the day in six small groups discussing specific goals.

While there was general agreement on NIMBYs – one woman sported a pin that read, “Yes, in my backyard,” – there was some disagreement on the best ways to handle the city’s housing problem.

“I think it starts with helping people be able to dream about having a home,” Barb Nahwegahbow, of Miziwe Biik Aboriginal Employment and Training, said in one group.

“I’m wondering if the dream hasn’t been sold to us by the development community,” said Jon Harstone of the Co-operative Housing Federation of Toronto. “We may find ourselves urging people to buy homes and they may find themselves in a downturn.

“We’ve got to be very careful not to ask people to look at buying a house as having no risk. It’s not a way out of poverty, it’s a way into poverty.”

Patrick Lee, of the city’s planning division, wondered whether returning to a more basic housing model, like the small, basic post-war homes, would help in a city where high land values and labour costs have pushed the cost of building a single unit of affordable housing to $200,000. But Lancefield Morgan, a Toronto Community Housing Corporation community revitalization consultant on the Regent Park redevelopment, said it’s time to move away from institutional buildings that shout low income.

“People will not stand for second-class housing,” said Morgan.

Many of the attendees greeted each other warmly; they have been in the business of trying to help the homeless and those struggling to keep their homes for decades.

Hains has been working with the most desperate of street people – the ones no one else wants to house – for 24 years. Her colleague, Brigitte Witkowski of Mainstay Housing, has been helping to house people with mental health and addiction issues since they were moved out of psychiatric hospitals in the late 1970s.

Finding homes for these people isn’t enough, the women say.

Witkowski says her clients sometimes need help learning how to do laundry or operate a thermostat.

After living on the street for 17 years, one of them brought carts, newspapers and garbage into his new apartment.

“He replicated what he knew in this gorgeous, one-bedroom apartment,” said Witkowski.

Six years later, he cooks for himself, his living room is spotless, and although he still abuses drugs, he’s not throwing crack parties anymore.

Kiy, of Covenant House, said work and education programs are essential for homeless and runaway youth. Some of them need someone to remind them to take their medication every day.

The first public meeting on HOT is planned for May 14 at the Scarborough Civic Centre.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the Awful Information, At a glance!! I see, You are a man of Letters.

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