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Toronto's housing crisis up close and personal

The Varsity - December 10, 2001
By Kelly Holloway

When John Jones moved to Toronto to care for his ill mother, he was under the impression that he could access housing that would suit his needs, but after a three-year battle with Toronto's housing crisis he is bitter and ill.

A sufferer of post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from childhood abuse, the search for an affordable place to live hasn't done much for his health. In fact, the only result of his search for housing is a serious liver infection and a great deal of resentment for Toronto Social Housing Connections (TSHC).

"All they're doing is trying to revictimize me," he said about the service.

His supporters include Downtown Legal Services and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP). OCAP's Mike Coward feels that John has found himself at the hands of a deficient system.

"There's gotta be social housing," said Coward. "There are many people who need housing who can't afford market rent today." He noted that people who are ill spend every penny they have on rent and have little left for medication.

"One level of the government should deal with it," he said. "I don't care which. They all blame each other, of course. They should get together and do something. It's disgusting."

Michelle Haney-Kileeg is the manager of TSHC. She deals with a list of 230 providers and a waiting list comprised of 61,000 "households," individuals or groups sharing living arrangements.

John has been offered three spots, but in each situation, circumstances have forced him to leave. Describing one residence, he recounts circumstances that left him feeling unsafe and upset at all times. "I just couldn't cope with it." He also said that some of the housing was run-down to the point of being unliveable.

Haney-Killeeg says that changing one's mind about where to live is not uncommon, but she refuted John's claim that the housing was not suitable, saying that it meets city and provincial standards. She speaks with people like John every day, but the housing situation is dire.

At TSHC, people who suffer from a terminal illness are put on the top of the waiting list, after people who have suffered from domestic violence. When vacancies occur, the provider consults the waiting list and begins to offer to priority cases or urgent cases, then modified chronological cases, and finally chronological.

John discovered recently that one of his kidneys has failed. His current medical condition deteriorates, compounded by the fact that he has not found a suitable home, but he is still not considered priority status.

"There is a team of four special needs workers who assess according to the criteria and then they review recommendations with a manager who approves cases. His situation has not yet met the criteria," said Haney-Kileeg.

Coward has seen medical records and substantiates John's claim that he has a terminal illness. He said while TSHC does not have space available, telling John that he is not sick enough to receive priority status is an insult. "The doctors are telling him he's ill, and then these people from housing, who know nothing about medicine, are saying no he's not sick."

Haney-Killeeg reasserted that the housing service has its hands tied. "The expectation of getting rent geared income housing in the city has to be adjusted with the fact that the stock is not there. If the city or other providers were building stock and there were vacancies to offer, people would be moving along the waiting list much faster."

John has solicited a letter of support from MP Tony Ianno, and has received numerous other supportive documents from doctors. Coward admires John's drive to "set things straight," but is worried about the physical consequences of his battle.

"Many people in the situation that John's in sort of give up. They blame who's to blame and they know very little can be done. John isn't like that. It's good to see somebody take it to them constantly, but I think in the long run, the way things are today, he's going to end up hurting himself more than he's going to end up hurting them."

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