Trying to get someone off the street and settled into housing is like trying to stuff an elephant into a thimble. It’s almost impossible.
I’ve been working with a homeless man — let’s call him Dave — since February. When an unfortunate series of events erupted in 2007, he lost his apartment and many of his personal belongings. He was briefly jailed — all charges against him were dismissed — and that’s when he arrived on the street. He has been living in shelters ever since.
Living in a shelter means you live there at night. During the day the shelter doesn’t provide services, so you’re on the street, walking everywhere to find free meals, finally returning to the shelter in the early evening.
That’s what Dave has been doing, and it’s surprising that three years later he still seems rational and relatively easygoing, which is one reason why I agreed to help find him housing.
Someone I knew in the apartment business suggested an apartment in an East York tower. It was a one bedroom unit in good condition. The rent was $960 a month with a discount of several hundred dollars for the first month.
Dave’s case worker at the Ontario Disability program office said he is entitled to $464 per month for rent, and another $578 for living expenses.
Where do you find a place to live for less than $600 a month on a disability pension? You can’t. A reasonable place costs $800 or more.
The welfare system provides so little for rent that it’s almost impossible to get a guy like Dave off the street and into a stable place to live and get on with his life. It’s shameful that people in our society live on the street to begin with, and even worse that the system keeps you that way when you want to get normal.
But with so little rent money offered, it’s not possible. Dave and other homeless people can’t get out of this mess.
John Sewell is a former mayor of Toronto; email@example.com.