Band Aids are not a Solution to Homelessness

By Marvin Ross

It’s winter in Toronto and, as can be expected, there is a cold snap. Not surprising of course but with every serious drop in temperature, the medical officer of health announces a severe cold weather alert so that agencies can look after the homeless.

The city opens special shelters so those poor souls do not freeze to death as often happens in the winter. The number of homeless in Toronto and other Canadian cities is a blot on our supposed safety net. Our solutions to homelessness are totally inadequate.

This past week, a poor woman sleeping in an alley in an attempt to keep warm was run over and killed by a garbage truck backing into the alley as the driver did not see her. As a consequence, one charitable group is handing out visibility sashes to protect the sleeping souls from this happening to them as well.

Shortly before this event, another woman died when she was trapped in a charity box used to collect clothing items as she had presumably gotten into it to keep warm . I find it totally disgusting to see the numbers of homeless in downtown Toronto sleeping on sidewalk grates in the financial capital of the country (Bay St) with all their possessions piled around them. They are invisible as humans as the bankers, stock brokers and other business types walk around them failing to see the human beings hidden under the blankets.

One year, driving into Toronto for a meeting, I watched as I was stuck in the rush hour traffic as a van pulled up blocking the curb lane. The driver got out with breakfast for the just waking up homeless on the sidewalk.

It is nice to have breakfast in bed wherever you are but this was and is a totally useless exercise. In 2018, the number of homeless in Toronto was 6000 but today it is 9000. Project Winter Survival (one of the many aid groups in Toronto) has been besieged with requests for survival kits this year: homeless aid groups sought 21,000 kits, up 60 per cent from last year. Jody Steinhauer, the founder of Project Winter Survival was quoted in the Toronto Star stating that “we need to put the pressure on the city of Toronto: open up 1,000 shelter beds, get people into housing long-term with support solutions so that next year at this time, we can be indoors and being proud.”

According to the Homeless Hub at York University in Toronto, “30-35% of those experiencing homelessness, and up to 75% of women experiencing homelessness, have mental illnesses. 20-25% of people experiencing homelessness suffer from concurrent disorders (severe mental illness and addictions). People who have severe mental illnesses over-represent those experiencing homelessness, as they are often released from hospitals and jails without proper community supports in place.”

One study carried out by McGill University in Montreal, found that it is costing over $50,000 a year to provide support to one homeless person without resolving the problem. These costs were comprised of services such as supportive housing, treatment for substance use, emergency department visits, ambulance trips, hospital admissions, police and court appearances, social assistance and disability benefits, and incarceration.

Matthew Pearce, the head of Montreal’s Old Brewery Mission, told the CBC that “homelessness is not the problem. It’s a symptom of a problem” and that “It’s a symptom of inadequate services for people with mental illness. It’s a symptom of inadequate options for affordable housing for individuals.”

The researchers said that there is a “need for a comprehensive response” to the problem, and the importance of preventing vulnerable people from finding themselves in that situation in the first place.

Yes, the homeless need to be kept warm and safe but they also need to have treatment for the conditions that allow them to become homeless in the first place. Until we start to do that as a society, we will only be putting band-aids on the problem not solving it.

7 thoughts on “Band Aids are not a Solution to Homelessness

  1. This is so true. We need to find long term solutions for housing. There is no such thing as affordable housing where I live in Kelowna, B.C. Subsidised housing, group homes with supports in place and care facilities of some sort could go a long way. Overnight stays in a shelter and short term group housing are bandaids. The government needs to go back to helping the people in society that can’t advocate for themselves..especially those with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar illness. They are like helpless children living in the streets with no one to care for them..It’s truly very sad in this day and age.


  2. Easy to complain about the inadequacy of services. Much more difficult to suggest solutions that might actually work. There have been some success stories with subsidized housing for people with mental illnesses — buildings with programs for the residents and staff around to monitor and help out. Drug abuse, however, is much more difficult to address — these folks are unstable, cause problems for their neighbours, and don’t necessarily want to get clean. I can help you walk, but I can’t walk for you.


    1. Could we please stop stigmatizing people with substance use disorder? Everything you said is true of some people with substance use disorder and also true of some people with serious mental illness and likely most true of people with both. They all need help.


  3. Vivian spells the problem out clearly. For the 75 percent with serious mental illness who are homeless, medical treatment is the key piece. Other solutions such as housing follow from that.

    In Kingston Ontario, every block on princess Street aaa is populated with several beggars who are mentally ill some of those are homeless. I am told by someone who knows, that there is a Crystal Meth problem in this town which is higher than that of other places. Most of these people no doubt started off with an untreated serious mental ill. To Mary’s point that most of these ” these people are unstable cause problems for their neighbours and don’t necessarily want to get clean”

    Does Mary appreciate that people who have the symptom of agnosognosia understand are unable to walk and choose treatment because they do not understand that they are ill.

    Where are the medical beds to stabilize these conditions . Mostly the beds are in jail. Band Aids will not work for homelessness. WE now have a beautiful hospital in Kingston (Versaille without the mirrors.) I was around when thirty two beds a hundred thousand was being proposed.That was ridiculous. Now we have far less than that. Logic has escaped the equation. And the devastation is a scandal It is time to look in the mirror you bureaucrats and come to grips with the unconsconable mess .Maybe they should don the reflector sashes and stop the nonsense.


    1. Apologies for my terrible typos above. I just get so mad with obvious facts being ignored, that I press send before i have corrected what will be my unheeded pearls of wisdom.

      WHY can’t folks grasp that people who do not know that they are ill avoid treatment. They won’t accept treatment. They can’t get it because their brain is not working for them. Their brain is “broken” which does not allow them the knowledge that it is broken. SO leading them to help is usually not accepted. That is why we need a useful Mental Health Act carefully crafted for those it needs to serve.

      We step in when we witness a person slipping into a diabetic insulin coma don’t we ? ??

      I sat on Committees at Queen’s Park when Bob Rae was Premier. The committees were stacked with Mental Illness deniers. One famous mental illness denier actually managed to get a place on the review boards some years later. How many patients did that person aid to refuse not appropriate medical treatment. And one such person managed to be on the family panel at the Mental health Commission of Canada. Daft heh ?


  4. Bandaids are not a long range solution, but when the temperature is -20 any kind of bandaid is better than freezing to death. The city gave eviction notices to most of the tent city individuals under the Gardner Expressway aroung Spadina, tomorrow there is a delegation going to city hall to demand the immediate openings of safe places. ( The armoury ?)


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