Fighting Poverty

Homelessness is one of the more striking features of poverty in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), bearing in mind that Toronto now has the dubious honour of being Canada’s income inequality capital.

That reality explains the shame and scandal created by the recent announcement from Toronto’s Medical Health Officer: at least seventy homeless persons have died in the city in the first nine months of 2017.

Reacting to that announcement, the chair of the city’s public health committee Councillor Joe Cressy included his fellow politicians as he blurted out a GTA-wide mea culpa: “Seventy deaths in a city as wealthy as ours is an absolute failure on the part of everyone.”

The shortest and the most painfully accurate description of poverty ever provided by anyone, anywhere at any time in history may very well be “Poverty is Hell”.

The author of the song bearing this title is Tobagonian calypsonian The Mighty Shadow (Winston Bailey).This grassroots philosopher is obsessed with the hellish realities of those whose lives are rooted in the deprivation and neglect of the financially precarious communities on the margins of society

The solution to those hellish realities has to be multi-faceted. In a recent Editorial comment, this newspaper summed up the responsibility of the provincial government in the following terms:

“In other words, the Fair Housing Plan, the reduction of electricity rates charged by Hydro, the newly announced Ontario universal basic income pilot project and the poverty reduction strategy are all essential and inter-related policy aspects of the government’s duty to level the playing field.

“Reasonably affordable housing, in that context, should more and more be seen as a basic human right. Every citizen and permanent resident, especially our children, deserves a decent chance of achieving a modestly comfortable standard of living.”

It is therefore comforting to note that several organizations of civil society are also stepping up to the plate with a similar strategy of several inter-dependent programs and principles integrated into one strategy.

Specifically, we commend the efforts of the United Way of Toronto and York Region which has joined forces with its “anchor agencies” on the ground throughout the GTA. Together, they are addressing several aspects of the root causes and the spiral of negative consequences that are directly related to homelessness.

The agencies in question deserve to be publicly recognized. Some of those currently being highlighted by the United Way are Access Alliance, Family Services of Peel, Family Services York Region, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Peel, and Warden Woods Community Centre in Scarborough.

These agencies point out that homelessness embraces victims of all ages, with more and more younger persons falling into its claws. Though all races are represented, the majority  of homeless persons belong to racialized minorities.

In that connection, the presence of a high percentage of Indigenous persons should cause all Canadians to hang their heads in shame for our failure to maintain and even increase the momentum generated by our Truth and Reconciliation Commission last year.

Furthermore, it would be naïve to deny that some members of our own Caribbean community in the GTA are falling through the cracks.

At the provincial level, a broader perspective is emerging, the desperate need for more shelter beds being only a start.

There is now a clearer vision of the deeper issue that includes prevention. One example involves providing immigrants with substitute mechanisms to replace the extended family and the social networks that used to provide a safety net for their members in their countries of origin.

Building that culture of support deserves our fullest individual participation on a scale of volunteerism that goes beyond financial donations.

We must give a lot more of ourselves.