Poverty and Homelessness in Toronto

It remains a sad reality that in our society and across the world poverty and homelessness remains an enduring challenge for too many people.  Everyone deserves a safe, stable, and affordable place to call home.  I recognize that issues of poverty and homelessness can be complicated and persistently challenging but if we are to effectively address these concerns then more needs to be done.

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Poverty and Homelessness in Toronto (Photo: DR)

Homelessness is defined as living in housing that is below the minimum standard or lacks secure tenure. People can be considered as homeless if they are: living on the streets; shelters, emergency accommodation; living in private boarding houses without a private bathroom or security of tenure.

There are many reasons why people become homeless – loss of employment, family break-up, family violence, mental illness, poor physical health, substance use, physical, sexual or emotional abuse just to name a few. In addition, societal barriers, a lack of affordable and appropriate housing, the individual/household’s financial, mental, cognitive, behavioral or physical challenges.

The situation in Toronto is indeed challenging with housing affordability being a major issue with rents escalating significantly over the past 10 years. 

According to the City of Toronto, there are over 9,200 people in Toronto who are homeless on any given night.  Affordable housing is fundamental to addressing the issue of homelessness.  In Toronto, the task of addressing housing issues is spearheaded by Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão, who has been working diligently on these issues as the City’s Housing Advocate and the Chair of the Planning and Housing Committee. 

In December 2019, City Council approved the 2020-2030 Housing Action Plan, a ten-year plan to meet the City’s housing challenges.    The total financial commitment for the plan will be $24 billion over ten years and it will directly assist over 341,000 individuals and families as well as put in place badly needed supportive housing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the situation not just in Toronto but around the country. 

Homelessness is the most obvious expression of poverty’s effect on housing, but it’s not the only one. Poverty in Canada refers to people that do not have enough income to purchase a specific basket of goods and services in their community. It is estimated that nearly five million people in Canada currently live in poverty and according to the City of Toronto, one in four children and one in five adults live in poverty in Toronto.

Poverty is a widespread issue across the country and our City and vulnerable groups such as people living with disabilities, single parents, elderly individuals, youth, and racialized communities are more susceptible. During this pandemic we have seen a large increase in foodbank usage as many desperate individuals and families have turned to these locations for assistance. 

According to a City of Toronto report, the highest rates of child poverty are among indigenous, racialized and newcomer families, with 84% of Indigenous families with children in Toronto living in poverty and one third of racialized children (33.3%) in Toronto living in low-income families, while in comparison 15.1% of non-racialized children live in poverty.

Both poverty and housing are serious and complex issues that need to be continually addressed by all members of government and society.  The Housing Action Plan by the City of Toronto goes a long way to improve the lives of many marginalized individuals and families.

Mario Silva, PhD (law), Distinguished Fellow, Ryerson University

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