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Silence at Queen's Park deafening after yet another report on homeless, by Colin Vaughan, Toronto Star, January 18, 1999
Colin Vaughan reports on politics and urban affairs for CITY-TV.

As interesting as the findings of the Toronto mayor’s Homelessness Action Task Force is the bibliography in an appendix at the back of the report released last week.

Listed are 220 references to studies having to do with every facet of homelessness, running from mental health issues to housing supply. Of these, 37 are from off shore and 15 are specific to Canadian cities other than Toronto. Left are 168 local references and, of these, only nine are dated prior to 1990.

That leaves 158 studies and sources having a direct bearing on homelessness in Toronto in this decade. So it’s fair to conclude there’s not much new in this report.

Task force member Bill Currie alluded to this backlog at Thursday’s press conference when he wondered aloud about why the raft of previous studies and reports had never been acted upon.

Mayor Mel Lastman echoed Currie’s sentiment, promising the new encyclopedia on homelessness would not gather dust on a shelf in some storeroom at city hall.

Currie also warned the powers-that-be not to pick and choose as though the report was just a cafeteria of recommendations, adding that the 105 findings were meant to be adopted as a cohesive whole. But when?

Take the task force recommendation for dedicated housing for those with mental problems.

The report reveals ``between 30 per cent and 35 per cent of homeless people are living with mental illness.’’ This is not news. When I asked two homeless guys on the street during last week’s storm why they weren’t in a shelter, the answer was ``the loonies.’’ Not politically correct, maybe, but politically accurate.

I remember back 20 years to the provincial announcement shutting down the Lakeshore psychiatric hospital. The closing was the flavour of the day, intended as a step toward deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill. The promise back then was the same. Treatment, support and rehabilitation would be handled in cozy, neighbourhood friendly half-way houses. Over the 20 years, there have been more closings but, as for the community facilities, nothing.

I guess we should all have been a lot smarter and a lot more cynical back then and seen the closings for the cost-cutting measures they were.

Now we are expected to deal with the crisis after 20 years of neglect by successive governments at Queen’s Park.

Just how long do you think it will take to meet the task force’s call for 5,000 supportive housing units for those suffering from addictions and mental illness? Ten years? Five years, if we hurry? Certainly not overnight.

The same applies to the 2,000 affordable housing units the task force wants to come on stream every year to take care of those on the verge of homelessness.

Ontario Community and Social Services Minister Janet Ecker said it all last week when she offered: ``Before I commit the province or any money, I’d like to meet with my provincial colleagues to review the report.’’ Here we go again.

But Janet, this was a promise you made at the time of the last provincial election.

Mike Harris pledged in the Common Sense Revolution manifesto, ``a shelter
subsidy program for all Ontarians who need help in affording a decent level of

We were told the aim would be ``to eliminate the two-year waiting list for affordable housing.’’

That’s the 100,000 still on a waiting list for social housing in Toronto alone.

The silence at Queen’s Park has been deafening. NDP leader Howard Hampton now wants to hit the streets to experience homelessness first hand. Too late, Howard.  And wouldn’t you have thought Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty would have pounced on the report the day it came out, holding it up as yet another illustration of Tory shortcomings and promising full compliance if elected?

So, it’s up to Mike Harris. What better way to put a kinder, gentler face on his government than to proceed with the findings of the task force report. And what a chance for Harris to notch up the pressure on Ottawa to pick up the federal share of the load.
The facts are clear. The time for review is over.

Colin Vaughan reports on politics and urban affairs for CITY-TV. To top of page

Golden Report Challenges OppositionIan Urquhart, Toronto Star, January 19, 1999

ANNE  GOLDEN’S report on the homeless has posed challenges not only to the Tory government but also to the opposition parties.

The report, released last week, calls for a number of changes in provincial policy regarding welfare benefits and social housing.

The opposition Liberals and New Democrats jumped on the report as an opportunity to bash the government but left me and other observers wondering just what they would do in the Tories’ place.

It’s a question of more than academic interest because this is an election year and there is a very real possibility that, at the end of it, there will be a Liberal minority government propped up by the NDP.

Both parties have made empathetic noises toward the homeless. NDP Leader Howard Hampton went so far as to express his empathy by spending a night on the street last night touring hostels and shelters.

And both parties have called for repeal of Bill 96, the Tory legislation that partially decontrolled rents and was fingered by Golden as a major cause of the growing homeless problem.

But beyond that, they have equivocated on the major issues involved in the area of housing and the homeless. To pin them down, yesterday I interviewed the NDP’s Hampton and two Liberal MPPs, Alvin Curling and Richard Patten, and asked the following:

Would they reverse the downloading of responsibility for social housing?

As part of the ``Who Does What’’ exercise, the Tories dumped the province’s entire inventory of social housing (275,000 units) on the municipalities. The Golden report, mindful of the current political realities, recommends returning only a small portion of the units - those for the mentally ill and the addicted - to the province.

But social housing tenants - notably those in the co-ops - have been lobbying hard to stay out of the clutches of the municipalities. They fear that, when it comes to drafting municipal budgets, they will be squeezed out by demands from homeowners for better snow removal and lower property taxes.

The opposition? Curling and Patten said the Liberals are still wrestling with the issue.  Hampton spoke vaguely of the need for ``joint management’’ of social housing but stopped short of calling for a complete reversal of the downloading.  Would the opposition parties favour introduction of shelter allowances for low-income Ontarians?

The Tories campaigned on this idea but never implemented it. Golden, shrewdly, recommends it.

But the Liberals and New Democrats are leery of this proposal, fearing that it would simply enrich landlords by driving up rents and leave tenants no better off. Hampton said he would consider it, however, as part of a larger package that included restoration of rent controls and construction of more affordable housing.  Would they bring back provincial subsidies for construction of new social housing?
Soon after they came to power in 1995, the Tories eliminated the co-op and non-profit housing programs that had been introduced by previous NDP and Liberal governments.

Again, Golden does not recommend restoration of these programs except in the area of support housing for the mentally ill and the addicted.
But NDP Leader Howard Hampton says the province must do more than that and refutes charges that the previous programs amounted to a ``boondoggle.’’

As for the Liberals, during the NDP’s days in power they were highly critical of the co-op and non-profit programs and called for a moratorium on spending in this area. All Curling and Patten would say yesterday is that they are studying the matter.

An overriding concern for both the Liberals and New Democrats is money.

The shelter allowance, for example, would cost $178 million a year, according to Golden. Complete reversal of the downloading of social housing, $836 million a year.  And a restoration of the co-op and non-profit programs, up to $1 billion a year.
The NDP has said it would get the money to pay for its election promises by raising taxes for people earning more than $80,000 a year. But that would raise, by the NDP’s own estimate, just $1.5 billion annually. If all that were spent on housing, it would leave nothing left over for health and education, the NDP’s stated priorities.

The Liberals have an even bigger problem. They have said they would not raise taxes and are relying on an as-yet unseen surplus to pay for their promises.

But as the election draws nearer, both parties are going to have to come up with better answers than they have to date on housing and the homeless. To top of page

Homelessness report will go nowhere slowly
by Slinger, January 21, 1999,
Slinger's column usually appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

MY prediction. Five years from now, 6,000-plus people will be stashed in Toronto’s stinking hostels and shelters every night because they have no place else to go. More than twice as many as on a good night now, not that we’ve had many good nights lately.  Sixty thousand names, most representing families, will be on the waiting list for some kind of low-rent housing. About twice as many as today. Without some additional sort of subsidy there won’t be any they can afford.

That’s not my prediction. That’s the careful estimate of the Mayor’s Homelessness Action Task Force, Anne Golden presiding. It’s what will happen if Queen’s Park and Ottawa don’t do anything.

My prediction is that Queen’s Park and Ottawa won’t do anything.

But please don’t let my skepticism diminish any joyful optimism you might feel because the problem has been so forthrightly identified.

After all:


The Prime Minister, the Québécois Jean Chrétien, and his dreary finance minister, the Montrealer Paul Martin, believe any effort that might too obviously help Toronto - for example, making employer-provided transit passes tax exempt (something that increased ridership 25 per cent in the U.S.), or stimulating construction of low-cost housing, will play badly in the great beyond.

As for the Mike Harris regime, here are things the Golden report says will happen if business continues as usual: flight of middle-class families to suburbs, growing gap in services between downtown and suburban residents, growing income gap, decline in ``the quality of life’’ of Toronto residents.

What the task force doesn’t appreciate is that the Harris government thinks these are good things. This is what they want to see happen.

The city is the enemy in the minds of these people, it is a wicked place and it frightens them, and they have felt this way from the time they were tiny Tories in the boondocks. If they have transformed it into an even more monstrous city, they have also made it into a more monstrous enemy, and they are just going to have to get tougher.

When all the decent people leave there will be nobody left in Toronto but perverts and Commies. (It’s already this way south of Bloor - look at the electoral map if you don’t believe me - so maybe they’re on to something.)

And while 47 per cent of ``our’’ homeless come from ``their’’ towns, they wouldn’t have been drawn here if we weren’t so wicked and perverted, and ``their’’ towns are at least free of the sights that turn the stomach of Al Palladini, the minister of esthetic cleansing.

It is a Toronto problem, and the folks back home are pleased.

(They dwell in a lovely fantasy of isolation. After Al McLean was accused of groping, and dumped, he told his hometown paper he was the victim of a conspiracy because he had tried to cut costs.

``I have been mugged in the corridors of power by a bureaucracy that worked to put me
out of the Speaker’s office.’’

As if he imagined nobody in the far north can get Toronto papers or watch Toronto TV.  As if it never occurred to him that the Orillia Packet and Times could transmit his paranoid ravings to Toronto at 150,000 bauds per second.)

Anne Golden and her task force failed miserably in not telling us what to do about the real problems, the chicken-hearted indifference of Chrétien, the meanness of Harris. Probably because they have no idea either. And maybe, short of secession, nothing can be done.

In the meantime, Mel has drawn another line in the snow. To top of page