By Isabella Keats, Taléa Bailey, Neve Laskar, Nicole Steiner and Ariana Fava
In Toronto there are over 8,000 homeless people and only 53 shelters in the city. The reason a person becomes homeless ranges from financial issues to family crisis. 30% of homeless people have mental health issues and 25% deal with addiction. When a person becomes homeless they no longer have resources to help them cope. With a lack of shelters being built and the growing stigma from the community something has to be fixed, and it isn’t the homeless people.
In 2020, the city moved around 2,000 homeless people out of its conventional shelters and into leased hotel rooms to allow for more physical distancing across the system. Until October, there had already been 649 cases of Covid-19 in Toronto shelters and five deaths. Six shelters had outbreaks in December, according to the latest numbers published by the city. Lucie Richard, principal author of a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, stated in an interview with CBC Toronto that individuals recently homeless are over 20 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 and over five times more likely to die within 21 days of a positive test.
There is a common misconception that a person’s homelessness is entirely their own fault, which is not the case. It would be foolish to ignore the many factors that cause homelessness. The primary cause of homelessness in Toronto is a lack of affordable housing. In a survey conducted by an organization called HomesFirst, 80% of homeless people in Toronto said they needed more affordable housing options. Within the past 10 years, the average market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto has increased by 33%, while within the same timespan, Ontario Works shelter benefits have only increased by 10%. As living becomes more expensive, homelesness becomes more of a reality. 53% of Canadians live paycheck to paycheck, meaning that even the slightest change in circumstance can throw them onto the streets. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, many people have lost their jobs. 66% of small businesses in Canada have defaulted - as this has happened, homelessness has increased rampantly.
That being said, a lack of affordable housing is not the only cause of homelessness, it’s often a complex issue that requires a network of assistance opportunities. Family violence can often lead to homelessness, especially among youth and women. Children within the foster care system are more likely to end up homeless after running away from an abusive or unhappy living situation. Although many people become homeless as a result of their addictions, and mental illnesses, addiction and mental illness are often products of homelessness. Homelessness is a vicious cycle, it can be very difficult to re-enter society. Without a phone, a proper resume, and appropriate clothes for interviews, getting off the streets is next to impossible. This is why the government has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the financial stability of its citizens.
People experiencing homelessness face discrimination and exclusion because of their housing status. Many people stigmatize and blame them for their situation, stereotyping them as alcoholics, addicts, violent or mentally ill.
Bystanders often ignore individuals or subject them to stares, which increases their “outsider” status either by making them invisible or making them visible in a negative way. The strength of the stigma attached to the homelessness label can lead to many bad outcomes for the targeted person. This results in suicide, drug addicion, alchoholism, and/or mental health issues. Our society needs to recognize that this is a serious issue and action needs to be taken upon it.
As one can become homeless for various reasons, what can the community do to help them and what are methods to help people to get back on their feet? As a member of the community especially being on the more financially stable side, you could volunteer at local food banks, The Salvation Army, Canadian Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and many more. Furniture donations at local homeless shelters also tend to make a difference as many of them walk in there with the clothes on their back. Donating clothes and food to homeless shelters as well also helps out a tremendous amount as most of the time, they are short on supply. Materialistic items aren't always what homeless people need: teaching them about what you know or maybe even a different language can help give them new opportunities. Once a homeless person becomes stable and you have seen improvement, you can help them and try and reach out to local small businesses to see if they would be willing to hire a new employee. As it may be harder to do this knowing that they may not have an address to put on their resume or they haven't really had a change of clothes in a few days, the community can help out once everyone comes together. So go donate to that person on the street, go give them new opportunities, because at the end of the day, anything helps.