The risk of dying on the street was made tragically clear last month when Richard Ian Kenyon was found dead on Carlton Street during Toronto’s ice storm. While this was a tragedy, it was not an isolated incident. In February 2013, Toronto’s Homeless Memorial added its 700th name, representing Toronto’s 700th tragedy since 1985. Now, just under a year later, Richard Kenyon’s name is number 733 on the monument.
Everybody deserves to have a place to call home. Having a safe and affordable place to live is one of the biggest factors that affects our health. The death rate for homeless people iseight to 10 times higher than housed people of the same age. Even for people who are housed, poor living conditions can lead to serious conditions like asthma, and these conditions are even worse for vulnerable people, like seniors and children.
Toronto’s housing and homelessness crisis is clear. A recent study found that nine out of 10 families living in Toronto’s low-income highrises are at risk of homelessness. Toronto has an incredible shortage of affordable housing, with 90,788 households on Toronto’s affordable housing wait-list in November 2013.
In Toronto, the Housing Stabilization Fund (HSF) helps to meet the emergency housing needs of people receiving social assistance. The HSF can help to cover housing costs for a range of reasons, including domestic violence or a health risk, avoiding eviction, or moving from an emergency shelter or the street. This fund can be the difference between having a home and being on the street.
Now, Toronto’s draft budget has the HSF slated for a $4.3-million cut, despite Council’s request to maintain funding. This puts many Torontonians at risk of homelessness.
Even the city admits that the cut “will reduce the City’s capacity to assist residents who are facing housing related crises.” And the cut contradicts the city’s new housing and homelessness plan, which prioritizes homelessness prevention services. Sadly, the only thing being prioritized is a budget cut.
Toronto’s ice storm and deep freeze showed the importance of supports like the HSF. Low income Torontonians turned to the city to recover from burst pipes and flooding. Cutting the HSF means turning people away in emergencies.
City Council needs to put the $4.3 million for the Housing Stabilization Fund in the 2014 budget. Vulnerable Torontonians cannot manage yet another cut to essential housing programs.
The province also has a role in our city’s housing crisis. In 2013, the Ontario government eliminated the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB). This benefit helped people receiving social assistance to pay for large or unexpected housing-related costs, supporting them to become and remain housed. Queen’s Park passed responsibility for homelessness prevention programs to municipalities, but passed along only half of the money that had been spent on CSUMB. This underfunding has contributed to Toronto’s budget squeeze.
After public pressure, the province pulled together $42 million in “transitional” funding to municipalities for 2013, which is about to expire. Twenty-seven community organizations from across the province are calling on Ontario to make the transitional funding permanent. So far, the province has refused. The experiences of 2013 have shown that municipalities cannot afford to have this funding cut.
City Council meets to finalize Toronto’s budget on January 29 and 30. Councillors need to amend the budget to maintain HSF funding at 2013 levels. As municipalities prepare their budgets, now is the time for the province to act. Ontario needs to commit to making 2013’s transitional funding permanent. These two actions will not solve Toronto’s housing crisis, but they will help to prevent homelessness and more homeless deaths.
Too often we see bad news stories about what happens when members of our communities don’t have a home to call their own, as Richard Kenyon’s death tragically illustrates. 2014 provides a new opportunity to get housing right for Torontonians. It’s time for Toronto and Ontario to step up and do the right thing for people in need of housing support.
Original article can be found here.