A True Tale of Homelessness

The following letter of Tom Pearson, Chairman of Poverty Action for Change Coalition (PACC) and ISARC York Region Social Audit 2010 Co-Covenor,  recounts a true tale of homelessness that exists – not in a third world country – but right here in York Region, Ontario, Canada:

Dear Editor,

Recently I came upon a single dad and son after noticing a young volunteer fervently mopping the floors the past several Thursdays, a day when typically Poverty Action for Change Coalition (PACC) members and others help distribute food to those who have a hard time accessing food-banks. I was floored by the story relayed to me by his 43 year old father – how he’d hitch-hiked and walked from Calgary to get his son who was to be kicked out on his 18th birthday, and how after managing to secure a job and an apartment, they found themselves on the streets not having enough hours in Ontario yet to collect EI. They spent the winter at the “Inn From the Cold” and 2 nights a week in a tent on the days it closed. They now shower at a Church and live in a tent. Outrageous.

This epitomizes everything that is wrong with our social safety net. Firstly, I want to stress they want a job and not welfare or as dad relayed to me, “I’d rather he be in school, but who wants to sit beside the kid who can’t shower”. That being said, without an address, they cannot collect anything. Without money they can’t get a home… without money a phone/job…etc. They are not recognized as a family – not by welfare, so they cannot apply together – and not by our shelters or social housing system.

When they went to check into Porter Place men’s shelter they were told the son was not 27 so he’d have to go to the youth hostel. He stayed nearby in a tent for the 6 weeks dad was able to stay (before being shown the door with no option of housing to move into). Had the son been 17 of course they’d be deemed an ‘emergency”, classified as a homeless family, and instantly received social housing bypassing its “list”. Instead these men get the streets….and he has stomach cancer.

I put the word out to a few politicians to see if something couldn’t be done. The reaction was pretty much what I expected – no reply by some, a promise to keep ears open from another, and action by one. Councilor Joe Sponga enquired about skills, and upon hearing he was experienced with painting, interlock, landscaping, etc offered to put them to work painting at his home but needed to know right away or he’d have to look elsewhere… and I had no way to get in touch!

I remembered the dad saying they showered at Trinity Anglican Church in Newmarket and called leaving a message for Rev Wardlaw no doubt getting ready for service… I decided to go anyway being about due for some church time, and as I walked near, up rode the dad on his bike! He was thrilled with the news yelling out incredulously!… however we still had to get Councilor Sponga…and it was a Sunday morning…but lo and behold he answered …looking around outside the church I blurted “ God Bless you Joe” which I rarely say. True to his word he has put him to work and is working within his constituency to find them a home! This is the type of attitude and action oriented thinking a caring society acts like and I commend him for actually doing something. I’m just hoping we can give this an even happier one as we work towards getting them a permanent home…the average “new “homeless person is a male age 43…just like the dad.. let’s change that.. please!

Tom Pearson — ISARC YR Social Audit Co-Convenor 2010

Chairman, Poverty Action for Change Coalition – www.povertyacc.com – 289221-0928