Cold Reality of the Truly Homeless

Homelessness in York Region should be no surprise.

As the local newspapers focus headlines throughout the winter through feel-good pieces aimed at propping up our social network assist vehicles - instead of dissecting what we could be doing better - it seems in keeping with York Region politicians.

It's no secret that Y.R. has had not only a shortage of government assisted housing units for those in need for many years, as highlighted in the 21010 York Region Social Audit Behind The Masks which was presented to Council in deposition, and which they supported in principle and then used / sent to the Ontario government towards helping them formulate a plan to coordinate funding and services for this area but it has also had one of the lowest owned units-to rental units ratios in the entire country, as well availability rates - also country-wide close to worst. So it's no secret. See the Social Audit Video.

In the download of $ and services to the municipalities from the Ontario government, the Region took away certain safe-guard initiatives designed (that are / were part of The ACT) to help individuals in need avoid becoming homeless and those just out of prison or institutions. It was called the Start Up Fund used to help residents avoid eviction or 1st and last to obtain a place to live and could be applied for no more than once every three years. It's no longer available through the municipalities take over, and its replacement deemed unattainable by former user types, so those same people now are more likely to go homeless. At the time when the download of services was still in proposal mode, I specifically mentioned this safety net program to Y.R. Councillor John Taylor who assured me all would be kept. It wasn't. Notice a crime spike of late? It's no coincidence.

Not going to say I told you so. But I did.

Instead, the Region seems to think putting everything into shelters has been the answer - spending more than 10 years focusing all available funding - over $10,000,000 - towards building one women's shelter, Belinda's Place, as well as some assisted temporary housing for the same single women only category. Problem is / was, most of Y.R.'s homeless are men, a fact I have long crowed, but now have tangible proof of, from the just released stats collected by United Way Toronto / York Region..

This week's Era Banner headlines scream out Shelter use up 50%...crisis levels..blah,blah,blah but are they not aware the one and only full time men's shelter Leeder Place - is full 100% of the time? That's not a story? Only in winter I guess when its sexy to write about it and INNs from The Cold gets their overflow. Thank goodness for them at least.

Cold Warning in effect

Yesterday, I came across a struggling guy, one who fights addiction issues but one who also works and works hard. I know, because I worked several jobs on which he was hired to assist, and in seeing his willingness to do a great job, I've since assisted him into something more regular, including the last one he's held for 6 months now. But they just don't have the hours for him come January and there he was, last night, out in the bitter cold begging for money.

Knowing I have a video taping upcoming this month for which I've budgeted in a P.A. I gave him $20 advance and told him I'd be in touch about the exact date. "But no more tonight eh? Go home." I said. He thanked me and did just that. He and his girlfriend struggle to keep a roof over their head. They could also benefit from nonexistent rehab programs to assist towards living a "normal" life.

YOURKnews covered MPP's start-up
Ironically I 've been trying to find an operator group for a housing or rehab complex of 18 self- contained, up-to-code units, yet no incentives enough seem to exist to entice operators to run anything. So why can't YR controlled funds go here?

Earlier that day, over the phone from Markham, Sam asks me,

" What are they doing with the $16 million dollars the federal government gave to assist with these issues?"

Good question. He's been a "victim" of the system for a long time, a long time area farmer who's seen tragedy more than enough times, and has been turned down by O.D.S.P. for heating fuel costs he claims, and now since he's turned 65 they've cut him off his disability income completely he says. And with no I.D - lost in a house fire in a house once located on the property he was recently evicted from after setting up a trailer home in place of the house for the past 12 years, before the City of Markham suddenly decided he was breaking bylaws so many years later. And no coincidence the new property owners have offered to build a community centre in lieu of zoning change considerations - he temporarily has no income. No one warned him he'd be cut off he says. Just like he got no adequate warning to move all his belongings and equipment, much lost in the wake.

Markham Community Centre
"It's not right. They knew the date was coming. No one told me I had to apply or that I'd be cut off income. No one told me anything." Farmer Sam

The reality is he was in the way of developers on that property despite having an agreement - and they didn't / don't have the zoning at 14th and Markham Rd still, but he was in the way down the road, and so they pave the people out early through tricks of the development trade. Tricks Sam now knows all too well, having been a victim of a suspicious house fire they never solved, but which he says was started on purpose to get him out. " Escape by Miracle" one headline read. Needless to say, the outspoken farmer is suspicious of those in positions of power. Police give no updates when he asks.

"Too long ago Sam", says the cop.

Wow. Really? On an a possible attempted murder? I guess it depends how important a life is to them.

Farmer Sam force-moved from 14th and Markham Rd
I was successful in soliciting help from churches, Lions Clubs, even members of the public over the past several years to help get some money or fuel to supply his kerosene heater, including in December past when a nice soul held a bake sale to raise funds and purchase some. But it's getting tougher as the groups from past don't seem to call back, while government sources seemingly refuse to help him - HE REQUESTED EMERGENCY START UP FUNDS AND WAS REFUSED - or expect him to travel to see them in Newmarket from Markham, while he has no money for transportation...and so now he's calling again. There needs be a mechanism to assist these guys, and don't mention shelter to him which seems all they do, or community meals...he's not interested. More on Sam's story.

Forest, right here, long time homeless camp
So where IS all this new money going in assisting those in need and those who want to live outside the dangerous and undignified shelter system? I don't know, but it's not getting to those most in need, and this to me seems an abuse of process.
Hey, I gave you resources!
The recent York Region Media articles have headlined cherry-picked themes taken from a report by United Way Toronto/Y.R., like the obvious such as aboriginals having a higher than average ratio - as it is in the rest of the country - and they've headlined children, family and youth poverty, but they've actually left out the most staggering headline stat of all that a full 100% of the homeless they found with no attachments to any shelter of any kind in York Region were male. 100%. They further found that 70% of all shelter dwellers were male.

Now I'm not going to come out and say that our social safety-net system seems sexist but...well actually I am, and it is. We have no shelters for males to escape abuse even though stats show spousal abuse is about 50-50, yet we have a number of shelters for women in this regard, in addition to the family shelter and single women's shelter and transitional temporary housing. There is no temporary housing for any single men. Men are last on lists for Y.R. housing too since abuse victims and families - often single moms - also rate ahead of them, regardless of the fact there are extremely few single assisted housing units to begin with in York Region, so vulnerable men often have little chance to get housed, and these men will statistically die much younger than the average person - often by two decades.

So that is what WE are supporting with our current system. We're sentencing men to an early death.

The social audit was clear back in 2010 that the lack of housing was already critical and that men were not only lacking in programs and housing but in how they were being treated and that has still had no change.

We need more male social workers according to Sam and others, 

"Women don't understand whats a mans goes through", Sam says through broken English, still, after all these years here from Italy, having lived so much of it alone, farming, and now he too is in severe crisis need of heat and has asked me to try and help....again.....

"They hire women right out of battered women's shelters and they don't treat us good."
Leeder Place, Former Shelter Dweller now deceased. See his and other video testimonials here.

We need better and these people deserve better. 

Churches traditionally help - where are their voices?
I've written in the past of several men who have died while living on the streets in YR and after years in the shelter system and yet not a word from the local media. Shame on them, but shame on us for doing nothing while men die. That would soon include our now area Housing Minister Chris Ballard who has not invited myself nor P.A.C.C, Y.R.'s voice for poverty, to participate in any reforms, nor for consulting, since his quick promotion from regular M.P.P.. Since he knows me and I have much more knowledge and experience than most in the area including himself and an asset as such you'd think he'd call. If you don't recognize your assets how can you use or manage them?  But they didn't mind using PACC to have wheelchair bound participant during photo-ops for the Pan Am Games. Not a bite since.

" House of Hope" sits empty begging for use.
I'll give the provincials this much, they have the "cahoonahs" to study a fixed basic minimum income model  and I have committed to participate in that, if only to try and ensure these off-the-grid and precarious work types are not left out of the mix. As I see it, this type of system may help stop those who often fall through the cracks to better survive in cold Canada.

Sam says we need to form branches within the Region that deal with guys like him in crisis. I agree.

Yesterday, someone stepped forward and purchased some heating fuel for this man, humbled by the system, still clinging to his pride.
A job our government should be taking care of by affording him adequate access to income and set-up / moving costs if not adequate housing. Referring him to an already full shelter system is not for this fellow. The man has never been able to get back his losses from the farms of past by being controlled by a system that rewards deep pockets. Now his are empty.

If you want to help Sam out with kerosene fuel (Home Depot, Can Tire or card) to help survive the winter in his trailer please contact

Tom Pearson