“Home is where the heart is.” “Home, sweet home.” “There’s no place like home.”
It can be easy to be sentimental about the place called home when, like many of us, you have never had to worry about having a roof over your head.
But for many of the people seeking assistance from Catholic Charities’ member agencies and affiliated organizations, finding a safe, affordable place to call home can be a brutal, worrying struggle.
Each day, it seems, news headlines tell horror stories about the scarcity of rental housing in the GTA, as well as what feels like ever-increasing prices, with rental costs soaring far beyond the reach of those on a fixed income,
Particularly shocking is the wait for subsidized housing, a problem seen across Canada. In Toronto, for example, it can take 14 years for a subsidized one-bedroom unit to become available. It is upsetting but hardly surprising, therefore, to see tent cities sprinting up, with residents unable to find anywhere else to go.
Recently, Canadians were shocked to discover that asylum seekers were sleeping in the street in downtown Toronto because there simply were no shelter beds available. For many observers, the response was the same: “This is simply unacceptable.”
But every day, our agencies see people struggling to find a place to live. Teen mothers, people struggling with substance abuse or with mental health issues, the elderly… the length of the list should make all of us uncomfortable. It may also surprise as well because, for example, many seniors living in poverty are women who have had full careers and yet cannot afford rent. Housing is often a more precarious issue for people than we know.
For people with limited income, finding a place that is within budget is just one piece of the puzzle because, if you don’t own a car, you also have to calculate such challenges as whether there are grocery stores within a reasonable distance, and whether public transit is close by.
We are always grateful when member agencies are able to address immediate housing needs. At Rosalie Hall, for example, pregnant teens who have faced trauma have a safe place to stay while they learn how to become moms.
And St. Michael’s Homes offer a safe place for men with mental health and substance abuse problems.
At Mary Centre, they provide a variety of residential services for people with intellectual disabilities.
While not all our agencies offer a residential component, staff at all agencies will attest to the extraordinary housing challenges facing people on the margins. It’s a problem we hear about daily. We know we all need to do more. Without stable housing, everything from holding down a job to ensuring children’s education is uninterrupted is at risk.
There are many ways you can help your vulnerable neighbours in what is increasingly being labelled a crisis. Obviously, all levels of government need to work together to figure out productive ways to create more subsidized units,
The province of Ontario needs to extend rent controls to all rental units rather than merely those built before 2018 so that tenants are not surprised by unanticipated rent increases that can seriously damage renters’ budgets.
There also needs to be a stronger crackdown on what is known as “renoviction,” which sees tenants evicted, with upgrades done to the property so that landlords are able to rent the unit at a higher price.
And, of course, we need immediately to increase the supply of emergency beds available to people in a housing crisis.
No doubt there are numerous creative ways all levels of government can respond to ensure that the right to safe, affordable housing is protected, but that requires cooperation and, as always, for the rest of us to raise our voices to say that we care about this pressing issue.
For our communities to function properly, let alone to flourish, we need to let policymakers know how strongly we feel about ensuring there are homes for all. We shouldn’t even have to consider this topic up for debate.
It’s a matter that should be particularly close to Catholics’ hearts, as the earthly ministry of Jesus begins with the Holy Family having no shelter, and soon after becoming migrants. We are a church that stems from an understanding of the harshness of this issue, and we are called to do more.