Social workers failing Toronto’s homeless

Posted on July 31, 2017 in Social Security Delivery System – News/Toronto & GTA
July 30, 2017.   By SUE-ANN LEVY, Toronto Sun

“I feel way more confident now and I know I’ll be back on my feet with work and housing very soon … As cliche as it sounds I do see the light at the end of the tunnel … Thank you again — you’ve literally changed my life.” — David Masters to the Toronto Sun and its readers.

Toronto’s 1,093 welfare caseworkers are supposed to — according to their own job description — advocate on behalf of their clients to ensure they are aware of career opportunities, housing services and other supports.

That same job description for caseworkers with Toronto Employment and Social Services (TESS) says they have a duty to ensure clients are able to access “available program benefits” such as retraining programs, clothing allowances, job coaching and the like.

In fact, the Ontario Works Act says assistance provided under this program comes in two forms: Basic financial assistance and employment assistance.

Yet the one message I received consistently last week in response to the story of 32-year-old David Masters (not his real name) is that far too many TESS caseworkers are merely getting clients on welfare and then essentially forgetting them.

Masters, an experienced and educated senior web designer, found himself on the street a year ago after losing his only living relative in North America (his dad), his job and his apartment in rapid succession. Surviving on $6-$10 a day from his $330 Ontario Works (OW) cheque, he has spent his days in a city library sending out about 30 resumes a day and sleeping nights at Harbourfront, where he feels it is safe.

His efforts to get assistance from the city’s $17-million Streets to Homes program and job support from OW were futile, he told me.

As was the case with Masters — and others who took the time to contact me — caseworkers seem to think their job starts and ends with meeting a client the one time it takes to get them on OW.

What about the service plan they’re supposed to develop and regularly update to give clients the training or supports they may need to get back on their feet? That certainly didn’t happen in the case of Masters.

He told me whenever he went into Metro Hall, where his caseworker was based, he was asked if he really needed to speak to someone, or did he just need tokens (he was entitled to 10 a month).

“They never gave me a list of job openings nor suggested any kind of retraining,” he said.

Another 58-year-old who’s been on OW for about a year as well said the only time he hears from his caseworker — based at Lawrence Square — is to inform him they are taking money off his cheque if he’s lucky enough to get even the slightest bit of work.

“The system needs to be overhauled badly,” said the man, an experienced warehouse forklift operator who is finding it very hard to find work at age 58.

Masters, who has received a number of job offers as well as offers for help with meals and clothing since the story appeared a week ago, already has 50 hours of contract work for which he was paid upfront. That allowed him to find a room in a cheap motel at the end of the week and sleep in a bed for the first time in a while, get a haircut and buy some new clothes, he said.

He told me it’s “almost sad” that it took a story to be published to get back on his feet — especially since there are literally thousands of others, particularly the mentally ill, who can’t reach out for help.

“Daily I would walk by the same mentally ill people, many of which are elderly, and I know that they are not going to get help and they will eventually die on the street,” he says.

“The city and the (Ontario) government need to step up,” he adds. “People need to know that their tax dollars are going to waste on the homeless problem in Toronto … There are no workers walking the streets trying to help us … Ontario Works (people) are not doing their jobs to get us back on our feet.”


•Number of Toronto caseworkers: 1,093

•Number of front-line supervisors: 130

•Average monthly caseload: 83,924

•Yearly salary range for a caseworker: $61,770-$67,649

•Yearly salary range for a supervisor: $86,795-$101,974

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