Thursday, February 03, 2005

Cleaning Up the Homeless

A day after protestors burst into city hall, Toronto Mayor David Miller managed to pass his Homeless Plan. Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) once again sent protestors to the council, but this time the debate continued, and the measure passed 28-9.

The plan comes with a hefty price tag, $18.4 Million in the first year, and local civil rights activists are concerned that the plan simply won't work.

The plan calls for:

- A ban on sleeping in Nathan Phillips Square and other public spaces.
- Six new outreach workers to provide one-on-one counselling for people on the street.
- An addition of $11.2 Million to a city fund to build 1,000 affordable housing units per year.
- A new homeless shelter to be opened by next year.

The ban on sleeping outside has been the source of much of the outrage. The simple fact of the matter is that the city does not have enough homeless shelters. It seems as though every day there are more homeless people on the streets, and nowhere for them to sleep.

Considering that the affordable housing fund has been in the works for years with no progress and there has been talk for years of opening a new shelter, activists are justifiable concerned about the plan. It's one thing to promise something, it's another to actually follow through on it. Supporters of the homeless are also concerned that the bylaw will open the door to persecution of society's most desperate.

OCAP has also pointed out that the promise of building a new shelter and affordable housing rings hollow given the situation at 590 Jarvis St. The city owns a large six-story building at that address which could easily be used for affordable housing, but the city has chosen to sell the structure to a condo developer instead.

Councillor David Shiner (Ward 24, Willowdale) echoed OCAP's fears:
"We can't even fix the TTC. We can't keep the wheels on the buses. We can't buy subway cars. How are we going to build 10,000 units of housing? We're going broke. So we're giving false promises."
Other councillors pointed out that building new housing is completely unnecessary given that the city's vacancy rate is over 4%. Instead of spending $11.2 Million to build housing for the homeless, the money could simply be used to rent existing vacant apartments.

All in all, if Miller actually follows through on his plan, it holds the potential to be a great success. However, the likelihood of that occurring is minimal. Instead, this is almost certainly yet another in the long string of attacks by the city of Toronto against its homeless.


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