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Federal government commits millions for new affordable housing, six months later no new construction

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The second Tuesday of the month.

The day they come together to remember the lives of the men, women and children who died on the streets of Toronto as a direct result of homelessness.

And remind themselves to continue the fight for more affordable housing. Over 80,000 households in Toronto remain on the wait list for social housing.

Over 700 names on the homeless memorial board outside the Church of the Holy Trinity.

On this humid afternoon, two young women check the board to see how many names have been added for August. They practically need a magnifying glass to read the names encased in plastic sleeves behind the plexi-glass exterior.

In order to fit all the names on the memorial, the print size has to be small. A memorial that most thought would have stopped growing several years ago.

I attended my first homeless memorial almost 10 years ago. At that time, the numbers were approaching the 500 mark.

Throughout the years, limited progress has been made in the construction of new affordable housing units.

The federal government still doesn’t have a national housing strategy. 

In 1993, the Liberals downloaded national housing programs to the provinces. But the provinces and municipalities haven’t made much headway.

So the lists grow. The affordable housing wait list and the homeless deaths list. 

It’s far more likely that a new, bigger homeless memorial board will be constructed before we see any significant new social housing construction.

The city won’t even increase the number of homeless shelter beds, even though they’re running at 96 per cent of capacity. 

Leaving more homeless people on the streets. Leaving them vulnerable to chronic diseases that eventually take their lives.

At such a young age. Men and women in their twenties, thirties and forties. Who spent most of their days searching for their next meal or looking for a place to spend the night.

Who spent most of their days trying to stay warm during the winter and cool during the summer. Even late summer.

On Tuesday, the city issued a heat alert. Never before has Toronto experienced such extreme heat this late in the summer. 

Extreme heat. The kind that kills.

“More people are dying prematurely in the summer of heat related issues than the winter of cold injuries,”said Michael Shapcott, Director, Housing and Innovation at the Wellesley Institute.

“So we should remember on a hot day like today that homelessness is bad no matter what the time of year.”

Housing first. It’s something they’ve heard over and over again. House a homeless people so they can stabilize their life and then deal with the issues that brought them to - or keep them on - the streets.

Far cheaper than a hostel bed or a motel room. Far cheaper than a prolonged stay in a hospital. Far better than another name on the homeless memorial board.

“Because we know that’s the solution to homelessness,” said Shapcott.

In the last federal budget, the Conservatives committed almost $250 million dollars annually over five years for new affordable housing.

“Six months later not a penny of that has been spent, not a single bilateral housing deal has been signed with Ontario or any of the other provinces or territories.”

Monies that would have made a significant difference in the lives of homeless people. And probably kept more names off the homeless memorial board.

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