He lost his job. His building was sold. Here are some of the thousands of people who were made homeless in Toronto this year

He relied on cheap rent for a boarding house in Toronto, and when it sold, he had nowhere else to go.

His job in the city’s film industry evaporated during the pandemic and he ended up living in a tent.

A dispute with his landlord turned into long nights on TTC trams.

These stories are among the stories of more than 7,400 people who have come forward at Toronto shelters for the first time this year.

It is a wave of new homeless people that as of November is on track to exceed the figures observed in 2020. And in an unusual year, the second of a global pandemic, workers in the sector say that the very profile of people without home in the city has been changing.

There are the continuing effects of the pandemic itself, with more people living on the edge. “We are seeing people who could barely survive, or who were struggling in poverty, only seeing further hardship through the pandemic,” said Dr. Andrew Boozary, who works with Toronto’s homeless population as executive director of social medicine. in college. Health network.

With migration largely atrophied over the past 20 months, family shelters have not faced the same stress as in the past due to the influx of refugees. But people have still flocked to Toronto from elsewhere; the most likely place of origin this spring was another Ontario city such as Mississauga or Brampton. Meanwhile, lifelong Toronto residents have made up more than twice the city’s homeless population than three years ago.

Laural Raine, director of the city’s shelter division, noted the rising cost of complex addiction and mental health challenges: 42 percent of the homeless population in a street needs assessment reported addictions and half reported mental health problems. When the same survey was conducted three years ago, those figures were 27 and 32 percent, respectively.

But despite all the unique circumstances of this past year and beyond, Raine said the main reason people needed shelter was the same as ever: housing, for many, was too expensive.

The Star spoke with three people who this year found themselves trusting in shelters for the first time, as well as other makeshift living situations, such as camping in parks or sleeping in traffic lanes. These are their stories.

‘I paid rent for 21 years in downtown Toronto’

Joanna Corbett, 37, a former film production worker currently living in Toronto's hotel-hostel system, spent time living this summer in Dufferin Grove, Trinity Bellwoods and other camps after losing her home during the pandemic.

For months before becoming homeless, Joanna Corbett was on the edge of the abyss.

Where the 37-year-old says she previously earned her income working in production roles for Toronto film and television projects, her job dried up during COVID-19. Without regular income, he was unable to maintain the costs of his rented apartment.

He went east for a while to work, and when he came back She turned to short-term rentals as an interim measure, some of which left her worried about safety and each one of them further depleted her bank account.

The last straw was this April, when he told the Star that he was robbed. At the end of the months, Corbett said he lived in a camp in Trinity Bellwoods Park, in the far west. She didn’t reach out to her family, feeling embarrassed by the way things had spiraled out.

“I paid rent for 21 years in downtown Toronto,” he said. “That tells you I made good money.”

While living outside, Corbett was surprised the number of women staying close to her, many of whom had faced domestic violence. Some used the camps as a place to hide from abusive partners, he recalled. “If he already had personal problems and COVID came, it was a double whammy,” Corbett said.

She tried to appear tougher as she stood outside cursing more or yelling, hoping to keep anyone who might take advantage of her away. Outreach volunteers kept her and others afloat, she said; their returns were often the easiest way to get warm socks, a snack, or other supplies.

He offered to help with the outreach, coordinating supplies and supports that were needed at the camp. The effort lifted her spirits. “My homeless family has made it so much easier for me to love myself while I’ve been homeless,” Corbett said.

As this year draws to a close, he hopes to get back on his feet, but stressed that the road had not been a straight shot. Twice he had accepted a place in a refuge hotel and, in one case, he says he got an apartment. But each time, due to various negative experiences, he says that he left those living arrangements to live outside.

After months of bouncing between parks, even sleeping in harsher spaces, such as on church steps, Corbett hopes to return to a “structured life.”

She recently moved to another shelter hotel and admitted that she had trouble accepting the help they offered her.

“It’s hard to be hungry for the first time. It’s hard to bring food to hand out, ”Corbett said. Still, she’s trying to keep her spirits up while looking for a home. “There is hope for me here.”

Reflecting on the past year, he said: “No matter what its origin, with COVID, homelessness has been something anyone could fall into. “

Finding housing ‘is not difficult, it is expensive’

Like thousands of people facing homelessness in Toronto this year, Faid Fhojae said he also struggles with addiction.

Until this year, Faid Fhojae, 40, lived in a boarding house on the west end of Toronto. But after the property was sold this year, they asked him to find another place to live and nothing came of it.

After immigrating to Canada nearly a decade ago, Fhojae, originally from Iran, worked minimum wage jobs (kitchen work, sometimes factory work) and the pension was affordable. For around $ 600 a month, I was grateful to have a decent-sized room of my own, with a shared balcony and kitchen on the same floor, plus a backyard for fresh air.

But earlier this year, his living situation was altered by the Toronto real estate turnover.

The pension he lived in was sold, he said. Property records indicate that the sale took place in May. An online listing for the site promised it would be vacant at the time of his possession, and Fhojae said he was offered roughly $ 500 to find another location. He searched for a unit within the same price range. But finding nothing, he ended up at the city shelter reception office.

Like thousands of people facing homelessness in Toronto this year, Fhojae also struggles with addiction, specifically opioids. Drug intoxication has taken an increasingly dire toll on the shelter system. While 10 overdose deaths were documented in shelters in 2019, last year there were 46, and more than 800 overdoses in shelters were reversed.

Fhojae started using substances out of a deep sense of loneliness, she said. He started using between long hours of work, when he was on the clock six days a week after coming to Canada. “Sometimes I used it for fun, sometimes to self-medicate,” Fhojae said, before adding, “This is an excuse. I have an addiction. ”She had started counseling at the Toronto Center for Addiction and Mental Health before losing her home.

During her first two nights without a home, Fhojae stayed in a shelter but struggled to adjust. Then he managed to secure a spot in a smaller dormitory-style site downtown, where he has been staying ever since.

He talks warmly about the facility, saying that it feels cleaner than the other shelter and that he doesn’t see violent clashes around him. The on-site staff made him feel heard, assisted him with resources, and kept him out of loneliness.

Still, he says his priority is getting out.

“It is not difficult, it is expensive,” he said, noting that he now depends on social assistance. “If you have money, in the next half hour, you can find a place.”

‘I just wanted to give up, but she put the will to live in me’

Gordon Jones was made homeless this year for the first time while battling cancer.  Since then, Jones has found a home and is seen in his West End rental.

As dusk fell in early May, Gordon Jones, 55, was hopping on a streetcar for the night.

As he rumbled forward, Jones tried to close his eyes. Sometimes the rate inspectors woke him up and, according to him, gave him “a pass” a few times. I would agree to pay the $ 3.25 fee in those cases, to have a few more hours without disembarking. Other times, he would wake up to find that his belongings had been taken from him.

Jones says a dispute with his landlord over his furnace in the spring was the catalyst for his homelessness. When things got tense, he left, bumping into a family member as he pondered his next steps. But in a household with high-energy children, he says the living arrangement began to wear him down.

So Jones, a Lifelong Toronto returned to TTC in May.

At the end of the month, a friend had helped Jones get into the shelter system. He had a room in a temporary hotel. It was then that he was diagnosed with lung cancer. A pain in his chest had been bothering him, which he guessed was a pulled muscle. Given the pandemic, he ventured to a nearby hospital to get checked just in case, and was given a stage three diagnosis.

The world seemed darker and Jones says he felt like giving up, facing cancer alone in the shelter. For a time, he did not speak to anyone else on the premises other than the staff. But after a while, he began to strike up conversations. It was then that he met Sonia, another resident of the shelter.

The two began a relationship, which Jones presents as a saving grace. “If it wasn’t for her, I honestly think I’d be dead. I just wanted to give up, but she put the will to live in me, ”he said.

Since then, the agency that runs the shelter, Dixon Hall, has helped the two find and provide a rental. The couple’s monthly bills are reduced each month with an allowance of $ 800.

Jones raves about his new home, telling Star about a squirrel they named Charlie who is regularly fed peanuts on his doorstep.

It is a mental difference for him to know that his bed is his and that he lives in a house where he can come and go whenever he wants.

“We all go through stages in our lives that we are not proud of,” he said. But he said he is happy with where he landed and proud of what he has accomplished.

“I have no excuses.”


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