Cover

NO SHELTER FROM THE CRISIS IN AFFORDABLE HOUSING

A Toronto family of five finds it has little to live on when rent eats up most of a meagre monthly income

Susan McClelland September 17 2001
Cover

NO SHELTER FROM THE CRISIS IN AFFORDABLE HOUSING

A Toronto family of five finds it has little to live on when rent eats up most of a meagre monthly income

Susan McClelland September 17 2001

NO SHELTER FROM THE CRISIS IN AFFORDABLE HOUSING

A Toronto family of five finds it has little to live on when rent eats up most of a meagre monthly income

On a hot August day, Caroline, Tim and John watch with bright eyes as their mom pours pink, purple and orange dye into three large pots of steaming water. The youngsters then wrap elastic bands around old white T-shirts and socks, and dip the items into the vats of coloured water. When they’re finished, the clothesline is strewn with brightly tie-dyed garments—just in time to wear to school. Caroline giggles: “This is the best thing I did this summer.”

Their mother, Kim, who asked that all their names be changed, is delighted the kids are so happy. Life has been rough for them lately. She, her husband, Leo, and the three youngsters, aged 8, 6 and 4, live on the first floor of an old brick home in

downtown Toronto. A tattered sheet divides the kids’ bedroom from the living room, which serves as the adults’ quarters. Insulation protrudes through holes in the ceiling tiles. The situation wouldn’t be so bad if it were temporary, Kim says. But it’s not: the family has lived in the cramped, $765-a-month apartment for more than two years because that’s the best they can afford. She doesn’t see them moving anytime soon.

They used to live in a nice large apartment, but it was destroyed in a fire that Tim, their middle child, then 3, set when playing with a cigarette lighter. He and his siblings lost everything in the blaze—toys, books, baby photographs. Tim was recently diagnosed with attention deficit hy-

peractivity disorder, a condition associated with disruptive behaviour, and he becomes aggressive, sometimes violent, when the subject of the fire is brought up.

It took Kim and Leo six months to find their current accommodation, camping out in the interim with friends and relatives. Without subsidized day care, Kim can’t afford to work, so Leo, a self-employed handyman, takes on as many jobs as he can find. In winter, he has shovelled neighbours’ driveways for a few extra dollars. But when he declares his meagre earnings, social services subtracts the amount from the family’s next monthly welfare cheque of $ 1,047.

That leaves less than $300 a month for all the necessities a family of five needs—

and nothing for the little extras that can help make life easier to bear. Kim feels sad about all the normal childhood experiences her children are missing out on, from family outings to buying new back-to-school clothes. She tries to compensate with activities like the tie-dying, which serves both as a pastime and as a source of recycled clothing. But more pressing is her fear her children will remain in a long-term cycle of poverty. John has a hearing impairment, and Kim is waiting to learn whether it can be fixed by surgery. If it can, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan will pay. Otherwise, Kim doesn’t know where she’ll find the money for hearing aids. Tim is struggling in school and, despite his ADHD, is receiving no extra help. When a visiting reporter asked him about his life, he didn’t have much to say. His sorrowful eyes, which look years older than they should, did the talking for him.

Susan McClelland