When word started leaking out last night through Mayor David Miller via Twitter that Transit City wasn’t funded in the budget brought down by the federal government, I was disappointed. But what made me mad was how little help there is in that budget for Toronto’s most vulnerable people.
If you used the level of access to Employment Insurance provided to Torontonians by the federal government as a gauge of how much need there is in the city, you’d think Toronto was doing just fine. While many people are fine, our most vulnerable are not and the ranks of the â€œvulnerableâ€ are growing.
As president of a midtown drop-in center called Wychwood Open Door that operates three days per week, I’ve seen the month-to-month changes in attendance at our daytime program, which has been running since 1986.
When the economy started to tank last fall, Wychwood’s numbers climbed. Between November 2008 and January 2009, Wychwood served over 750 additional meals compared to the same months last year. That number would be higher but this winter has had many extreme cold weather alerts, which opens up more shelter and support services across the city for people to use.
Seven hundred and fifty more meals served sounds like a lot to me but it is even larger when you take into consideration that we’re one of the smaller drop-ins in the city, with about 13,000 meals served last year. (According to a Toronto Star article written in December, about 60,000 meals are served at the Osgood Hall soup kitchen over 12 months.)
Ideally I would have liked to see the type of measures in the budget that would reduce the need for drop-ins. However, since neither the Harper nor McGuinty governments have given reason to believe Torontonians will have any significant enhancement to income or housing security in the foreseeable future, drop-ins are, and will continue to be, the last line of defence against increased homelessness in Toronto.
Common perception is that drop-ins serve exclusively homeless people. However, people who are homeless make up about half of the clients Wychwood serves. The other half of our program users are housed to some degree. Usually that means a room, sometimes a small apartment. The reason they come to a drop-in is because they can’t afford both rent and food, even though a considerable portion of our clients work or draw a pension.
As a result, Wychwood, and I’m sure this goes for all of Toronto’s approximately 40 drop-in centers, is going to have to stretch its already over-extended resources further than ever before and rely even more heavily on our partners that provide us funding, donations and in-kind contributions.
Like most people, I expected tougher times in 2009. To be faced with greater demand for service from new clients is part of that. Yet with the scant assistance available to vulnerable Torontonians through yesterday’s budget, I am far more concerned about the prospects for the people who need the help of organizations like Wychwood Open Door and the impact that will have on the fabric of our city.
Photograph by StarbuckGuy.