Supporting People Experiencing Homelessness

Sa’ad Talia told his moving life story that included a homeless stretch. He is now a spokesperson for homeless people and lives comfortably in an apartment.

It is winter and Toronto’s 8,000 homeless citizens are seeking shelter indoors, almost all wanting housing. None of them chose to be homeless. YQNA learned about this shameful situation at a recent well-attended Zoom meeting from two experts — Shafeeq Armstrong from Toronto Shelter Network’s Welcome Home Project, and Sa’ad Talia who was formerly homeless and is now a team member of the Persons with Lived Experience caucus.

Shafeeq heads a one-year initiative to provide information about the benefits of housing people experiencing homelessness. It is easy to understand that a home is essential for holding down a job, going to school, cooking meals and keeping physically and mentally healthy. Without an address, it is almost impossible to restart a life gone awry for whatever reason. We are talking about homeless people who are most visible in streets and parks, but also the less visible families, including children and single parents. Even less visible are thousands of people who borrow a sofa or a room in a friend’s home.

Shelters are not a solution to homelessness, but they provide valuable services, such as mental health supports, connections to social services, to housing and help with the rent.

There are solutions. Last month alone, 56 supportive housing units opened in Toronto, at 11 Macey Street, taking eight months from conception to completion. Contrary to common assumption, assisted housing does not lower property values nearby.

The Waterfront attracts many homeless people in the summer, so YQNA is aware of their plight. We know that not all citizens feel compassion for them and think that “it’s their own fault” and especially that we must not “give them money for free.” For these sceptics there is good news, if tax dollars spent on the homeless is a main concern. An analysis by Homes First Society found that chronic homelessness can cost up to $161,000 per person per year. That includes preventable hospital and medical costs, shelter costs, legal and policing issues and social assistance. This staggering amount is a much bigger drain on government coffers than providing permanent homes and giving people a hand up. The bottom line — for those who find that most important — is that it is cost-effective to provide people with housing. Housing is essential for helping everybody reach their potential.

How can we help? By learning about the homeless and welcoming them in permanent homes in the neighbourhood; fundraising and donating to local shelter organizations; asking our elected politicians to support the homeless. Shafeeq’s Welcome Home presentation was a high point at YQNA’s meeting. He offers to give the same to other resident associations, BIAs and condo boards via shafeeqarmstrong.tsn@gmail.com.

The Community Care Program is still accepting winter clothing donations on Sundays from 12-1:30pm at 163 Portland Street. The entrance is located at the back gate off the alley. Clothes must be laundered winter clothing in good condition. Or donate to the Homes First site at 545 Lake Shore Blvd. W. and contact Ryan Evershed at (647) 455-1552 for details.

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