He had a big heart, cared deeply about his friends and had a great sense of humour.

And he was only 35 years old.

“He was still cracking jokes at the hospice even days before he died,” said Greg Cook, an outreach worker at Sanctuary Ministries in Toronto who knew Clifford White quite well.

“Looking for that smile on the people that visited him.”

Tory Young also knew Clifford White as well as Ed Newman. Both died in March as a result of homelessness.

“I’m shocked this month that’s it’s two people that I’ve known,” said Young, who’s been attending the monthly homeless memorials for the last six months that are held on the second Tuesday of the month outside the Church of the Holy Trinity in the courtyard behind the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto.

“Both Ed and Clifford knew that if we didn’t stand up and start dealing with this issue they were going to end up on that wall.”

Young pointed to the homeless memorial, off to the left of the steps leading into the church, where the names of over 700 men, women and children who died as a direct result of homelessness in Toronto serve as a constant reminder of what can happen to people forced to live on the streets.

“They talked about it often,” said Young. “They know what’s coming because nobody cares.”

Except the homeless men and women still living on the streets. They care. Except the men and women providing services to the homeless community. They care. Except the people who come to the monthly homeless memorial vigils to remember and celebrate the lives of these men and women and to grieve their deaths. They care.

“How many more of my friends are going to have to go on this wall?” asked Young. “I don’t want to see another one of them.”

Bonnie Briggs, homeless for two years in the late 80’s with her husband Kerre, thought of the idea for a homeless memorial while studying in the community worker program at George Brown College.

In the early 90s, Briggs chaired a committee determined to create a homeless memorial at Nathan Phillips Square. 

“Put it right in the politicians’ faces so they wouldn’t be able to escape it,” said Briggs. “But of course that got screwed.”

And when Briggs’s committee tried to erect a memorial in St. James Park, the ward councillor allegedly blocked that plan.

“We came up with several elaborate designs with names and voices of people telling their stories,” said Briggs. 

“Hopefully it will come to fruition some day. This will do for now but we have to get something better.”

Every month Briggs and Sherman Hesselgrave, the pastor at the Church of the Holy Trinity, co-write and read a poem at the memorial vigil.

This month’s poem was entitled “Housing Housing Everywhere and Not a Place to Live.”

“A rooming house fire in Kensington Market reminds us again of what we all know,” said Briggs. “Affordable housing is scarcer than hen’s teeth while towers of condos pop up and grow.”

“Why is it that housing is not a basic right in a first world country with riches untold?” asked Hesselgrave.”The poor have no lobbyists queued at their door while political forces the funding withhold.”

“Housing housing everywhere and not a place to live,” said Briggs. “Unless you have experience and only Canadian counts. Bachelors degree at least and a couple of jobs to beat. You might as well abandon hope. There is no parachute.”

Only disposable solutions. 

On April 13 from 10 am to 3 pm, Harbourfront Community Centre is bringing together over fifty services under one roof for the first time in the city.

Toronto’s homeless can get a haircut, dental screening, income tax preparation, housing support, career counselling and a hot lunch.

Organized by Homeless Connect Toronto, this new “one-stop-shopping initiative” will offer free essential services as well as non-traditional ones such as haircuts, vision screening, chiropractic assessments, legal aid, identification card clinics and library services.

“We received an overwhelming response from volunteers, service providers, and sponsors, all wanting to be involved in Homeless Connect Toronto,” said Melody Li, Lead Coordinator of Homeless Connect Toronto in Monday’s press release.

“People are tired of the persistent poverty in our city and want to see that change. Such poverty and lack of affordable housing should not exist in a country like Canada. As a result, people are doing what they can and hoping that politicians and leaders will also do their jobs to prioritize this need.”

In May 2010, The Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA) and four Toronto individuals launched a Charter challenge, claiming that homelessness and inadequate housing violate human rights under sections of the Charter that guarantee “security of the person” and the right to equality.

“Last week in court, we had eight new organizations that decided to join our Constitutional Charter challenge on the right to housing,” said Cathy Crowe, a long-time Toronto street nurse, social justice advocate and a distinguished visiting practitioner at Ryerson University’s Faculty of Arts.

Last fall, the Ontario Superior Court dismissed the landmark Charter case.

“So it’s still in court and we’re appealing.”

On another matter, Crowe told everyone at Tuesday’s memorial vigil that the building that houses the Red Door Shelter for Homeless Families has been put into receivership and is now being bid on by condo developers.

“Our home has been at 875 Queen Street East for 30 years,” said Bernnitta Hawkins, Executive Director, Red Door Family Shelter on their website. 

“We are an integral part of the South Riverdale community. We do not want to leave, and we certainly do not want to reduce the number of beds we offer homeless families in need. The receiver and developer have not given us any answers and we need them now!”

One of only two shelters in Toronto assisting families, refugees and women who are fleeing violence, the safe house has begun a Save the Red Door campaign. 

Click here to learn more and sign a petition to save Red Door.

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.