Faces of Toronto’s housing and homelessness crisis

Housing advocates across Canada marched for National Housing Day today. Here are five people who rallied in Toronto


National Housing Day on November 20 serves as a reminder that the number of Canadians facing homelessness and housing insecurity grows each year.

In Toronto today, a march took place from the Superior Court of Justice, to City Hall, and then the Church of the Holy Trinity to advocate for the right to housing and a national housing strategy.

After the march, we talked to five Toronto residents, who have all faced some form of housing instability. Here are their stories below.

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Michelle da Silva

George Boyle has been dealing with homelessness for 17 years.

Name: George Boyle

Age: 32

Current housing situation: homeless

“I’ve been homeless on and off since I was 15. Me and my dad had a huge falling out, and instead of getting into a fist fight and going to jail, I chose to leave. I’ve succeeded getting off the streets numerous times, but I always am getting moved into places that are either owned by a slum lord or are so far run down that I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy to live there,” Boyle says. “My fiancé and I are currently looking for a place. We’re staying on a friend’s couch. Rent in Toronto for a one bedroom is $900 to $1,000. ODSP [Ontario Disability Support Program] and welfare, they don’t give you fuck all to live on.”

Why he attended the event: “Someone needs to stand up and tell the government how it is. The way I look at it, they work for us. It’s time for them to stop tearing down affordable housing and to stop building condos. Start building more affordable housing. There’s way to many homeless people dying every year.”

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Michelle da Silva

After Alejandra Ruiz secured housing for herself, she trained to become a housing worker and now helps others.

Name: Alejandra Ruiz

Age: 47

Current housing situation: has a home

“I was homeless for 11 months because of marital issues,” Ruiz says. “I had the opportunity to receive help from Toronto community housing. Now, I have a lovely house, and I am a housing worker. I see all the struggle that people have, even when they have money. Even though you have money, landlords ask you for many, many things that sometimes you can’t provide.”

Why she attended the event: “We must tell the government and the politicians to step up. We have a right as citizens.”

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Michelle da Silva

Brian DuVourdiu believes Toronto has a “huge shelter crisis” right now.

Name: Brian DuVourdiu

Age: 53

Current housing situation: lives in Veterans Affairs housing

“I had been living on the streets on and off for about 10 years because of addiction and alcohol,” DuVourdiu says. “I’ve been living in Veteran Affairs housing now for the past five years. That’s been working out well. I’ve gotten a lot of my life back through it, because you can’t have an education, you can’t go to work, you can’t maintain anything without housing. It all starts with housing.”

Why he attended the event: “I’m here to support. I want to see the Liberal government come up with a national housing program. They killed it almost 20 years ago, and they say they’ve got money to spend on housing, and the best way is to start a national housing program. Even at $2 to $3 billion a year, it’ll take us 10 years to catch up.”

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Michelle da Silva

Asha Mohamoud has been a social activist since 2006 and hopes the federal government will “step up with what they promised.”

Name: Asha Mohamoud

Age: 36

Current housing situation: lives in affordable housing

“I was homeless for a year due to domestic violence. I lived in a shelter with my daughter. She was three months old at that time,” Mohamoud says. “I want people to know that especially women in abuse situations, it’s hard for them to leave the abusive husband because they don’t know where they’re going. Even ones who came to the shelter. Some of them went back to their abusive husband because they couldn’t handle the situation.”

Why she attended the event: “I’m a single mother and I think that housing is something that’s a human right,” she says. “Anyone can become homeless. It’s something you can’t take for granted.”

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Michelle da Silva

Denzil Barker is an ODSP recipient and currently pays $139 per month for rent.

Name: Denzil Barker

Age: 40

Current housing situation: lives in affordable housing

“I have never been homeless,” Barker says. “I have lifetime disability and I’m living in housing only because I have ODSP income. If it wasn’t for that, I’d probably be living on the streets.”

Why he attended the event: “Everyone deserves to have affordable housing.”

michelled@nowtoronto.com | @michdas

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