203 Sherbourne Street in 2013. This house is a perennial favourite for protests by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. This year, the group is calling for it to be converted to housing for people who are homeless.
Before COVID-19, the City of Toronto was in the midst of an effort to add to the supply of housing that would help people to leave homelessness. Since COVID-19 arrived, the City has approved new plans to add additional housing units for people experiencing homelessness. The City has also called on the Federal and Provincial Governments to step up and help with the effort. The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty says, “it’s not enough.”
With winter approaching and many people living in tents because they don’t want to stay at an emergency shelter, there is plenty of reason for concern.
During the COVID-19 emergency, there have already been some dust-ups between the City and advocacy groups about the City’s shelter program and the supports for people who are living in tents.
OCAP has history of pushing the City to do more, dating back long before COVID-19 arrived. This most recent demonstration is drawing attention to a row of boarded up buildings, which the OCAP wants the City to redevelop as permanent housing. These lots are not currently part of any of the City’s announced plans.
And what about those other levels of government? The federal government recently announced a rapid housing program to buy up existing properties that can quickly be added to the supply of affordable housing. The full details have not been announced, but this could present the needed opportunity.
As for the provincial government, it has steered clear of adding more housing units, focussing instead on streamlining evictions and arrears payments. Will OCAP’s actions (it is the Ontario Coalition to End Poverty after all) sway the provincial government?
Why is this story interesting for anyone but a Toronto politics junkie? Groups like OCAP, who are never satisfied that enough effort is being made, can be a bit discouraging, especially when it seems that homelessness has finally, finally started to gain a place on the political radar that it deserves. This relentless critique can cut two ways, something which the advocates and decision makers need to keep in mind.
One one hand, it is very important to keep a focus on government promises, as the promises all too often have not been carried out, especially when it comes to housing for people who are homeless or teetering on the brink.
Fair enough, but OCAP’s positions relentlessly point out failures. Over time, this constant criticism wears down the idea that helping people to leave homelessness is actually working. People who supported public action change their minds because OCAP says governments are screwing up.
OCAP-style attacks also invite opponents to use the same tactics. Those who believe that people choose to be homeless can simply accuse governments of wasting their time and money if they take any action at all. That’s because they believe that people don’t want to leave homelessness enough to actually do so.
The combination of endless critique without offering constructive alternatives, even though they come from different viewpoints, undermines support for public action.
Building public support to do something about any issue can take years of painstaking work. Homelessness is no exception. COVID-19 underlined to a broader constituency the importance of ending homelessness and the need for more low priced housing. Presumably the critique in the following article is intended for the purpose of making sure the planned units actually get built and people leave homelessness behind. It would be unfortunate if the critique fuelled naysayers’ opinions instead.
Read more about the Coalition’s demonstration at iheartradio: Homeless Advocates Calling On City To Develop Vacant Properties On Sherbourne Into Social Housing