When a Bed Is Home: the Challenges and Paradoxes of Community Development in a Shared-Housing Program for Homeless People

There is no wishing away the fact that homelessness has grown into a socio-political problem of alarming proportions in several North American urban centres. The extent of this problem in Canada can be seen in the declaration by mayors of Canada's 10 largest cities that homelessness is a national disaster worthy of the type of response traditionally reserved for natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes. Pointing to this declaration, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights issued a report in 1998 criticizing Canada's treatment of the poor, pointing out that the Canadian government had failed to ensure that all Canadians enjoy economic and social rights guaranteed by a UN covenant to which Canada is a signatory. To support its conclusions that Canada is not taking care of its low-income citizens, the report specifically points to "crisis" levels of homelessness, skyrocketing usage of food banks, deep cuts to welfare rates, and inadequate funding for battered women's shelters.

In Toronto, the city with the largest number of Canada's homeless people, the homelessness crisis has been fuelled by social, economic, and political realities such as a vacancy rate of less than 1 percent, rents that are rising faster than inflation, limited construction of affordable rental housing, loss of existing rental housing stock because of demolition and conversion, an increasing number of households that need affordable rental housing, and decreasing tenant incomes.

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Canadian Review of Social Policy
Toronto, ON, Canada