It has been a cold winter. During our holidays we were able to go relax with friends and family at our cottage on Georgian Bay. It is “winterized” — it has a gas furnace and a wonderful stone fireplace. Still, on the days with a strong north wind it was impossible to get the temperature inside over 58 degrees Fahrenheit. We put on sweaters and thick socks and sat in front of the fireplace under a warm blanket — we stayed comfortable.
On those days we were powerfully reminded of how privileged we were. We had a roof over our head, food in the fridge, and friends nearby that would have welcomed us into their homes.
It was impossible not to think of the homeless people who have died on the streets in our city. It was impossible not to think of those people out on the streets shivering in cast-off sleeping bags, some with the help of their dog to keep them warm.
It is inspiring to think of the men at Na Me Res, who were once homeless. Now, they are on a good path because of the vision and commitment of Steve Teekens and the staff, who know how to provide the dignity and cultural safety that gives people the hope to change their lives.
At the Toronto-St. Paul’s Summit on Affordable Housing this past November, it was clear that homelessness was at the forefront of people’s concerns. We made a commitment to hold another meeting focused on homelessness, and we will do so on Feb. 11 at 3 p.m. at Holy Blossom Temple.
We know that the new National Housing Strategy needs to address the full continuum of housing needs — shelters, supportive housing, assisted living, more rental stock, the affordability of ownership. In Toronto-St. Paul’s, seniors are particularly vulnerable. Many have described to us the reality of a fixed income and rising rents. They are truly worried they may not be able to stay in the apartment that they have called home for 30 years. They are worried they would have nowhere else to go.
We know there are many root causes of homelessness. We have a responsibility as a community to ensure better resources for those suffering from mental health issues. The link between childhood trauma, shame and anger, drugs and alcohol, violence and suicide, is very clear. No caring society should allow someone who was harmed as a child to end up in prison, or dying on the street, as a result of their trauma. We know we have to do better in the aftercare for our veterans with PTSD. We have to do better at preventing the apprehension of children into the child welfare industry only to have them ‘age-out’ onto the street. We can no longer allow LGBT2Q youth to live on the streets when they are rejected by their families.
Every homeless person has a story. I remember working in the Emergency Department at the Wellesley Hospital hearing their stories as I would quietly stitch them up in the operating room. One had been a microbiologist specializing in blue-green algae before his wife left. He began drinking until he had no job, no hope, and no home.
Last week, during a fireside chat with Adam Vaughan in London, Ontario, we heard about an inspiring initiative he had seen at work in that city. HIFIS 4.0 is a system that shares resources with people to help them better support a homeless person, or someone at risk of becoming homeless. This ‘tracking system’ allows individuals to develop a customized care plan for them to turn their lives around.
At the Summit on Affordable Housing last November, all the elected representatives underlined their understanding of the importance of housing in building strong communities. It was also evident that to be properly housed is key to an individual’s dignity and sense of hope for the future.
In Toronto-St. Paul’s, the Jewish community reminds us of their principle of ‘Tikum Olam’— making a better world. As we meet at Holy Blossom Temple this month on the moral imperative of eliminating homelessness in our community, we recognize that building a better world – a better country — needs to start in our own neighbourhoods.
For more information on the Roundtable on Homelessness, or HIFIS 4.0, please contact our constituency office.
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