After five moves in as many years due to high rent and utility costs, the roof — literally — fell in on Brampton mother Colleen Richards and her family.

“It actually fell on my head,” says Richards of the day last spring when the soggy living room ceiling in the family’s mouldy two-bedroom apartment finally gave way.

“After all these years of struggling, it really struck me. We shouldn’t have to live this way,” says Richards, who has been slinging coffee at Tim Horton’s since 2001 when her husband was laid off from Chrysler. He has since retrained as a chef and is working in a restaurant.

“We’re hard-working people. We don’t mind working hard. We’d just like a fair shake.” But in communities such as Brampton, where subsidized housing is scarce, the Richards and their three teenaged children — like so many other low-income families — have few options.

“We were nearly homeless. But there are so many different levels before you become truly homeless,” says Richards, whose family was featured in a documentary film about homelessness in Toronto released last month by the Sky Works Charitable Foundation. “What is so troubling, is that ours is not a unique story.”

Some 647,000 Ontarians pay more than 30 per cent of their income on rent; more than 129,000 households are waiting up to 20 years for a social housing unit where rents are geared to income.