by Michael Shapcott
On the second Tuesday of every month, two dozen or more people gather at the south doors of Holy Trinity for a memorial to remember, by name, those who have died on Toronto’s streets. The homeless memorial, which has close to 1,000 names, offers a small measure of dignity to people who have died without housing. Each month, the small gathering renews its call for a National Housing Strategy to end homelessness in Toronto and across Canada. Over the years, our quiet remembrance has reverberated in Parliament and in other halls of power.
The federal government announced plans for a National Housing Strategy with great fanfare on Nov. 22 – which is celebrated across Canada as National Housing Day. The federal plan takes up many of the demands from housing and homelessness advocates, including funding and programs for new social and affordable housing, repairs to aging housing, rent supplements to help low-income households pay for their housing and the renewal of the national strategy to prevent and end homelessness.
National Housing Day has special significance for Holy Trinity. In October of 1998, we hosted a city-wide meeting organized by the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee to release a call for the federal government to declare homelessness a national disaster and to take comprehensive action. Less than a month later, on November 22 of 1998, the Big City Mayor’s Caucus of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities took up the call and demanded action from the federal government.
Nineteen years after that Holy Trinity gathering, the federal government in its housing announcement has promised to spend more than $40 billion over the next decade. They have also committed to recognizing the international right to adequate housing in Canadian law – which advocates hope will protect at least some of the gains over time as governments come and go.
Three of the leading national housing and homelessness organizations have all welcomed the federal announcement. The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness says the announcement “marks the return of the federal government to leadership in housing”; while the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association calls it “historic” and the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada says that 20,000 or so low-income co-op households facing a loss of federal subsidies “can breathe a little easier”. Please see links at the end of this article.
But there are no plans to end Holy Trinity’s monthly vigil in the near future. Most of the federal funding is back-ended, that is, it won’t start flowing for two years or more. Some of the funding depends on matching funds from provinces or others. Housing experts are still pouring over the details of the announcement. Even if all 100,000 new social and affordable homes are funded by 2028, it can take several years (or more) for development and construction.
Sadly, the thousands of women, men and children who will experience homelessness in Toronto this winter, and many hundreds of thousands more across Canada, face a bleak winter despite the federal announcement. So, the monthly memorials will continue as we remember, by name, those who have died on our streets as a result of the manufactured housing crisis.
Holy Trinity is also joining the Toronto Drop-In Network and many others in calling for more emergency shelter space this winter as the city’s homeless shelters are full to bursting.
Toronto Drop-in Network call for action: http://www.tdin.ca/
Origins of National Housing Day: http://www.homelesshub.
ca/resource/what-national- housing-day-where-did-it- originate-what-happens-day
Canadian Housing and Renewal Association: http://chra-
achru.ca/sites/default/files/ PressRelease/ nationalhousingstrategy_-_ news_release_0.pdf
Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness: http://www.
newswire.ca/news-releases/ caeh-welcomes-release-of- national-housing-strategy- 659380373.html
Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada: https://chfcanada.
coop/chf-canada-responds- national-housing-strategy- launch/