From owner-labor-l@YORKU.CA Sun Jan 20 02:00:06 2002
Date: Sun, 20 Jan 2002 01:05:19 -0500
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: Groucho Marx <grok@SPRINT.CA>
Subject: Fwd: Canada lacks housing: Christian Science Monitor, Jan 14, 2002

Shelter from the Storm

CBC TV, [2002]

It's hard for most of us to imagine living on the streets, but as we know thousands do, in towns and cities across the country. On any winter night in Toronto, more than 5,000 homeless people cram into the city's overcrowded emergency shelters. Many more are turned away and have little option but to sleep in the streets.

Last winter, a handful of Toronto's homeless people living in tents and lean-to's on a plot of industrial land close to the lake shore, banded together to try to get a roof over their heads. Declaring the homeless crisis a disaster, a group of city housing activists joined forces with the residents of Tent City and began lobbying for disaster housing to replace the tents and lean-tos. By Christmas, the newly formed Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) was successful in bringing onto the site the first in a series Durakit houses, designed for third world disaster relief for the victims of flood and war.

We meet Tom Gold and Karl Schmidt who are among the residents of Tent City and now live in one of these pre-fabricated cabins. As they tell us in SHELTER FROM THE STORM, having a roof over their heads now means they can look for work and begin breaking the cycle of poverty which engulfs most of the residents of this makeshift community.

The land which houses Tent City, is owned by hardware giant, Home Depot. It had been zoned for development, but environmental studies have found high levels of contamination from toxic metals. Few will argue the land is safe for humans to live on and Home Depot has been repeatedly ordered to force the residents to leave. Still they say, in spite of the problems, it's safer than sleeping on the streets or in Toronto's overcrowded and inadequate shelter system—another aspect of the housing crisis that's woven through the documentary.

One night last January, City Councillor, Jack Layton, invited the media to join him and other members of the TDRC on a late night tour of the city's emergency shelters to show how inadequate the system is. As usual, the demand for beds that night far outweighed the supply. Hundreds are turned away to bed down outside in the freezing cold.

The TDRC asks City Council to open more emergency shelter space. On the very day deputations are to be made, the worst storm of the year forces postponement of the meeting because some council members couldn't make it through the snowy streets. In a dramatic scene, we see street nurse Cathy Crowe, plead unsuccessfully with city officials to open more emergency shelters that night. If you open 400 (spaces) we could fill them, she says. (Despite the cancelled meeting) you could still do something. You could be brave, you could take leadership.

Despite the small victories made at Tent City, few see it as a permanent solution for the residents. When the City recommended the community be disbanded, Jack Layton made an impassioned plea to Council. Tent City. Here's a little ray of hope. Here's a bunch of folks who've tried to make a go of it in the outdoors because there's not enough room for them in the system. Let's work with this community to help them with their relocation. We do want to move them from a toxic site. It's not an acceptable place for them to be in. But if they end up on the street they'll be breathing the fumes of cars a diesels and that's no better, surely.

Layton's speech turned council around. A number of motions were passed on homelessness and City Council directed its staff to work with the community towards a new location for Tent City. But progress is slow and today the residents of Tent City face another winter at the Home Depot Site and the much broader crisis facing Canada's homeless continues to grow.