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Political leaders pay little attention to homeless deaths

It was cold on Tuesday.

In the fall when temperatures drop, most of us can turn up our household thermostats. Not so for homeless people, forced to brave the elements on the streets.

“But there are a couple of warm spots on the horizon,” said Michael Shapcott, Director, Housing and Innovation at the Wellesley Institute in Toronto.

“We think the city councillors will unanimously back resolutions for more affordable housing on the waterfront and for more money to fix up run-down community housing.”

But nothing happens unless the federal and provincial governments provide the much needed cash they promised long ago.

In the March budget, the federal government pledged $253 million a year over five years for new affordable housing, matched by the provinces and territories.

“Not enough money, but a good start,” said Shapcott at Tuesday’s monthly homeless memorial vigil outside the Church of the Holy Trinity. 

“A downpayment on a national housing program.”

Since then, no monies have flowed to Toronto. Not even a trickle. Instead, the federal government has continued to make cuts to existing housing programs.

From 2007 to 2017, the federal government will cut subsidies to 123,000 affordable households.

“Manufacturing homelessness,” said Shapcott.

On November 22, an event has been planned at noon in Toronto to commemorate National Housing Day and emphasize the fact that Canada is the only G8 country without a national housing strategy. 

Similar events are planned in other cities across the country.

“To see that list out there of the more than 700 homeless deaths, I can’t help but do a quick juxtaposition between this modest but powerful ceremony and the ceremony I was at yesterday,” said Linda McQuaig, federal NDP candidate for Toronto Centre.

“There was so much attention by all our leading political figures. But why so little on the deaths of the homeless. These deaths are a terrible indictment of the policies of our governments. Part of the ideology that has gripped us as a nation for the past 20 or 30 years.”

Putting profits ahead of people.

“There is absolutely no need for people to be homeless,” said McQuaig.

“The housing crisis we have in this city is my very top issue. The NDP has a plan to rebuild the national housing program that we had from the early '70s to the mid-90s, when it was killed by the Liberal government.”

A program that saved lives and made good economic sense.

“The costs of homelessness end up being much greater than the cost of a national housing program,” said McQuaig.

“When you think of the cost of housing the homeless in shelters.”

Including homeless youth.

“You never really hear the issues of what’s going on with these children,” said Jeffrey Lennon, who spent 12 years homeless on the streets of Toronto.

“They suffer and they shouldn’t. Not in this country.”

Nor should adults. People like Mark Carpenter, an indigenous man who was precariously housed and spent long periods of his life without housing.

Who died on Saturday at St. Michael’s hospital of an infection that turned into a flesh-eating disease.

“He’ll be missed by many people who knew him as a friend, as a brother,” said Greg Cook, an outreach and pastoral care worker at Sanctuary Ministries who knew Mark for the last four years.

“I’ll miss his smile,” said Cook. “He had a very mischievous smile and showed that you can have a really good time despite (life) being quite hard at times.”

A harsh life, a painful perspective that most of us will never experience.

“They bring a different view to me of our city,” said Sara Boyles, a former minister at the Church of the Holy Trinity.

“They see it at night. They see things that I will never see. They figure out how to eat. How to carry their things around. And they’ve managed not to pay attention to middle-class politics they way I do. And I love that. The fact that they have found their own way.”

Seven months ago, another Carpenter family member committed suicide.

“So my heartfelt sympathies go out to the family because they’re probably really hurting right now,” said Brian DuBourdieu, who spent over a decade living on the streets and in shelters.

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