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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Harper ignores needs of Toronto’s most vulnerable

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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 “vulnerable” 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.



  1. Thanks for this, Adam. I’m sure shelters and social service programs across the country are also disappointed. Why is there money for built infrastructure but not social infrastructure? The latter is so important and–you know what?–provides lasting jobs. (As well as, I understand, lasting costs, but there are benefits and as you discuss, real needs.)

  2. And the wussy liberals are going to give the Tories their confidence. Way to be strong, Iggy.

  3. The Liberals are indeed pathetic.

    Iggy is saying that given the choice between being PM himself and propping up Harper, he’d rather do the latter. Apparently he believes Harper can do a better job than he can.

  4. I can’t stand the PC, and I’m not particularly keen on the Liberals (whatever leader they’re fronted by), but in all fairness to Iggy, I think he realizes that there is NO real mood in this country for another election in the next few months and that any coalition is not likely to hold for long.

  5. Yes, I’m also angry that the ranks of needy in this City is growing — and angrier still that McSquinty at Queen’s Park has had years to redress the mess created by Harris regarding the downloading of welfare, social housing and other social services onto municipalities. Instead our Premier has chosen to move at a snail’s pace on these issues.

  6. I agree with Sam: there is no gaurantee Iggy would be PM since we know Jean will do unpredictable things like call an election instead of asking the opposition to lead. This WOULD HAVE been the time to hold an election, not in the fall, but Harper is a smart strategist. having the government be able to call the election is one of the few flaws in our parliament.

  7. Matt: That was something he vowed to change with fixed election dates. So much for that.

  8. I’m not sure either way of the federal v provincial responsibility, but overall I think it’s clear that our social infrastructure has been running a deficit for some time. It’s a shame you can’t call related projects all macho and “shovel-ready.” Maybe… “furnace-ready”? “Shelter-ready”? “Human-ready”? No, no good, just dosn’t require as many steeltoed boot purchases.

  9. Thanks Adam.

    Organizations like yours have been campaigning for additional funding in the budget for the past month via the Recession Relief Fund Coalition.

    Everyone interested in this issue is invited to join this campaign by signing the Recession Relief Fund Declaration at:

    and by joining the Facebook group here:

    The budget is certainly disappointing, but we’re not giving up just yet. Our next meeting is Tuesday Feb. 3rd at 5pm at Research Capital, 199 Bay Street, Suite 4500, Commerce Court West. All are welcome to attend.

  10. All three levels of government can share the blame. Remember there is only one taxpayer.

    Besides Harper and McGuinty, spare some outrage for …..
    Mayor David Miller, Maria Augimeri (York Centre), Sandra Bussin (Beaches East York), Janet Davis (Beaches East York), Glenn De Baeremaeker (Scarborough Centre), Frank Di Giorgio (York South Weston), John Filion (Willowdale), Paula Fletcher (Toronto Danforth), Adam Giambrone (Davenport), Suzan Hall (Etobicoke North), Norm Kelly (Scarborough Agincourt), Gloria Lindsay Luby (Etobicoke Centre), Giorgio Mammoliti (York West), Joe Mihevc (St. Paul’s), Pam McConnell (Toronto Centre Rosedale), Howard Moscoe (Eglinton Lawrence), Joe Pantalone (Trinity Spadina), Kyle Rae (Toronto Centre Rosedale), Bill Saundercook (Parkdale High Park)

    All voted against mandatory removal of the 2.4% COL allowance. In this time of CPI stagnation, where BOC governor Carney is struggling to reach a 2% inflation target and stave off deflation, the COLA should have been scrapped. I would much rather see it go towards centres like this.