She lost her job. His building sold. These are some of the thousands of people who became homeless in Toronto this year

He relied on the cheap rent of a bedroom house in Toronto, and when it was sold, he had nowhere else to go.

Her work in the city’s film industry evaporated during the pandemic, and she ended up living in a tent.

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

These stories are among the stories of more than 7,400 people who have turned up at shelters in Toronto for the very first time this year.

It is a wave of new homelessness, which from November is about to exceed the figures seen in 2020. And in an unusual year, the second of a global pandemic, sector workers say that the very profile of homelessness in the city has changed.

There are the continuing effects of the pandemic itself, with more people living on the brink. “We see people who were barely able to cope, or struggled in poverty, and who only see more difficulties through the pandemic,” said Dr. Andrew Boozary, who works with Toronto’s Homeless as CEO of Social Medicine at the University Health Network.

With migration largely hampered over the past 20 months, family homes have not been subjected to the same strain as in the past due to waves of refugees. But people are still flocking to Toronto from elsewhere – the most likely place of origin this spring was another city in Ontario like Mississauga or Brampton. Meanwhile, lifelong Torontoians have made up more than twice as many of the city’s homeless as they did three years ago.

Laural Raine, a director of the city’s crisis center department, pointed to the growing number of complex mental health and addiction challenges – 42 percent of the homeless population reported in a street needs assessment addiction and half reported mental challenges. When the same survey was conducted three years ago, the figures were 27 and 32 per cent respectively.

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

The Star spoke to three people who this year, for the first time, were addicted to shelters as well as other temporary life situations such as park camps or sleeping on transit lines. These are their stories.

‘I paid rent for 21 years in downtown Toronto’

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

For months before falling into homelessness, Joanna Corbett tipped over.

Where the 37-year-old says she previously earned her income by working in production roles for film and television projects in Toronto, her work dried out under COVID-19. Without ordinary income, she was unable to afford the cost of her rented apartment.

She went out east for a while to work and when she came back she resorted to short-term leases as a space – some of which made her worry about security, and each one emptied her bank account further.

The drop was here in April when she told Star she had been robbed. At the end of months, Corbett said she lived in a camp at the west end of Trinity Bellwoods Park. She did not reach out to her family and was ashamed of the way things had gone.

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

While living outside, Corbett was beaten by the number of women living around her, many who had been subjected to domestic violence. Some used the camps as a place to hide from violent partners, she recalled. “If you already had personal issues and COVID came, it was a double whammy,” Corbett said.

She tried to appear tougher while staying outside, cursing more or shouting in the hope that it would keep anyone who could take advantage of her away. Outreach volunteers kept her and others afloat, she said – their passes were often the easiest way to get warm socks, a snack or other supplies.

She offered to help with outreach work and coordinated what supplies and support were needed in the camp. The effort lifted her mood. “My homeless family has made it a lot easier for me to love myself while I’ve been homeless,” Corbett said.

As this year draws to a close, she hopes to find a foothold again, but stressed that the road there had not been a straight shot. Twice she had accepted a place at a shelter hotel, and in one case she said she had secured an apartment. But each time, due to varying negative experiences, she says she left these housing arrangements for life outside.

After months of jumping between parks, even sleeping in more harsh spaces, such as on church stairs, Corbett hopes to return to a “structured life.”

She recently moved into another shelter hotel and admitted that she had struggled to accept the help she was offered.

“It’s hard to be hungry for the first time. It is difficult to take handed out food, ”said Corbett. Still, she tries to keep her spirits high while looking for a home. “There is hope for me here.”

Reflecting on the past year, she said, “Whatever your background, with COVID, homelessness has been something everyone could fall into.”

Finding housing is ‘not difficult – it’s expensive’

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

Until this year, 40-year-old Faid Fhojae lived in a one-room house on the west end of Toronto. But after the property was sold this year, he was asked to find another place to live, and came up empty.

After immigrating to Canada almost a decade ago, Fhojae, originally from Iran, worked minimum wage jobs – kitchen work, sometimes factory work – and the room house offered coveted affordable prices. For about $ 600 a month, he was grateful for his decent-sized room with a shared balcony and kitchen on the same floor, plus a backyard to get some fresh air.

But earlier this year, his life situation was changed by Toronto’s property conflict.

The room he lived in was sold, he said. Property records show that the sale went through in May. An online listing for the site promised it would be vacant upon possession, and Fhojae said he was offered about $ 500 to find somewhere else. He was looking for a device within the same price range. But when he found nothing, he ended up at the city’s shelter.

Like thousands of others facing homelessness in Toronto this year, Fhojae is also struggling with addiction – specifically opioids. Drug poisoning has taken an increasingly bleak toll in the shelter system. While in 2019 there were 10 overdose deaths documented in shelters, last year there were 46 – and more than 800 cases of overdoses in shelters were reversed.

Fhojae began using drugs out of a deep sense of loneliness, he said. He started spending between long hours working when he was on the clock six days a week after coming to Canada. “I used it sometimes for fun, sometimes for self-medication,” Fhojae said, adding, “This is an excuse. I have an addiction.” He had started going into therapy at the Toronto Center for Addiction and Mental Health before losing his home.

In her first two nights of homelessness, Fhojae lived in a shelter but struggled to adjust. He then managed to secure a place in a smaller dormitory-like place in the center, where he has lived ever since.

He talks warmly about the facility and says it felt cleaner than the other shelter, and he did not see violent clashes around him. The staff on site made him feel listened to, helped him with resources and kept him from loneliness.

Still, he says his priority is to get out.

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

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

Gordon Jones became homeless this year for the first time while battling cancer.  Jones has since found housing and is seen in his lease at the west end.

As dusk fell in early May, 55-year-old Gordon Jones would board a tram for the upcoming night.

As it rumbled down its tracks, Jones would try to close his eyes. Sometimes he was awakened by the sleep of the ticket inspectors, who he says gave him a “passport” a few times. He would agree to pay the price of $ 3.25 in these cases to get a few more hours without having to leave tables. Other times he woke up and discovered that his belongings had been taken.

Jones says a dispute with his landlord over his furnace in the spring was the catalyst for him to become homeless. When things got tense, he went and crashed with a family member while figuring out his next steps. But in a home with high-energy children, he says the housing arrangement began to wear him down.

So Jones, one lifelong Torontonian, approached the TTC in May.

By the end of the month, a friend had helped Jones into the shelter. He had a room in a temporary hotel space. That was when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. A chest pain had gnawed at him, which he assumed was a pulled muscle. Due to the pandemic, he ventured to a nearby hospital to have it checked for safety, and was given a phase three diagnosis.

The world seemed darker, and Jones says he felt like giving up when faced with cancer alone in the shelter. For a while, he did not talk to anyone in the facility other than the staff. But after a while, he started initiating conversations. That was when he met Sonia, another shelter resident.

The two started a relationship that Jones presents as a saving grace. “If it were not for her, I honestly think I would be dead. I just wanted to give up, but she put the will to live in me,” he said.

The agency that runs the shelter, Dixon Hall, has since helped the two find and arrange a lease. The couple’s monthly bills are reduced each month with a $ 800 grant.

Jones talks passionately about their new home and tells Star about a squirrel they called Charlie, whom they regularly feed with peanuts at their door.

For him, it has made a mental difference to know that his bed is his own and that he lives in a home where he can come and go as he pleases.

“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 come through.

“I do not regret.”


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