On Saturday, May 25, a public inquiry was held at All Saints Church in Toronto into the circumstances faced by homeless people. I'm going to give kind of a synopsis tonight. The panel will be issuing a report and recommendations later this week; I'll try to go into more detail then.

The inquiry was held at All Saints Church in downtown Toronto. All Saints is an Anglican church with a long history of ministering to Toronto's homeless. The panel was made up of six persons: Two members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP); one media representative; one member of Toronto City Council; and two others. 

The inquiry itself was basically divided into two parts. During the morning hours, submissions were made by representatives of agencies involved in front-line work with street people. Staff from two area drop-in centres talked about the threat to their funding plus the fact that most days they are so overcrowded that they have no choice but to turn people away. A nurse working with (Toronto) West Central Community Health Services gave compelling statistics regarding the occurrence of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases among those forced to exist on the street or in a shelter. A researcher employed by the (Toronto) Public Health Department explained at length about how narrow the definitions are when determining whether or not cause of death could be attributed to homelessness. What her information suggested was that instead of just three deaths in the course of this winter, there may in fact have been dozens. 

This fact was made more apparent by the frequently heartwrenching testimony given by homeless people in the course of the afternoon. Person after person went to the microphone to tell of the friends and companions they lost in the course of the winter. Others told about how the strict curfews, loss of privacy and dignity, and the ever-present threat of violence often made the streets seem preferable to staying in a shelter. The subject of the cutbacks to Welfare rates and the cancellation of most of the public housing projects slated for construction came up repeatedly. A well-known psychiatric survivor advocate stressed the need to counter the myth that in many instances homelessness is a "symptom" of "mental illness." All too often this is the perception of the public. 

The weaknesses of the event was a lack of participation by people of color, women and youth among the street people who testified. Considering these groups make up the most rapidly growing sector of the homeless population, it is my feeling that this will weaken the impact of the panel's report. And we all have suffered a serious political setback in another area. In the mid-1980's, the main demand from housing advocates was "Housing, not hostels." Now, the main focus seems to be a frantic struggle to preserve the meager stock of shelter beds available! The demand for quality permanent housing seems to have taken a backseat; at least for the time being. 

Please feel free to forward, copy and discuss this post among yourselves. I will be sending a slightly different version of this text to a couple of other lists I subscribe to. Once the Toronto Coalition Against Homelessness issues their report and recommendations, I will try to share the details with you.