Poverty infrastructure

In Desmond Cole’s story on the City staff report on homelessness, he concludes,

Toronto’s shelter system was never designed to meet the needs it now struggles to address. According to the report, shelters now sometimes serve as permanent or semi-permanent housing for people who should ideally be in some form of assisted-living housing.

And it occurred to me, not for the first time, that this is a defining feature of our poverty infrastructure, a. k. a. the social safety net. Homeless shelters, food banks, and distress lines were only ever meant to be emergency measures. But all of these services have regular users because there is nothing else there to meet people’s basic needs. Instead of permanent affordable housing, people use shelters. Rent is so high that people are chronically unable to afford food, so they rely on food banks. Because adequate preventative mental health care is inaccessible, they call the distress line number posted up by the Bloor Street viaduct for suicidal jumpers.

It is a strained and unsustainable system that various levels of government, which ostensibly want to wipe out poverty, are slowly divesting themselves of, and “downloading” to private enterprises or individuals.

We have essentially refused to hire family doctors, and if anyone gets sick there is no help until you are in such critical condition you need to go to the emergency room. And because the emergency room is only designed to get you out of emergencies, no one will help you get healthy enough so that you don’t need a doctor at all.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled wankery about transit funding. Good night.

3 thoughts on “Poverty infrastructure”

  1. I do work with the homeless as volunteer on my own dime and I can tell you some facts 1 the shelters I know of collects 250 per night per person the shelters do not have to disclose any of the money still when somebody wants to get there own place they get 520 per month to pay for rent food toiletries and all so I believe these shelters are as corrupt as our government and greedy corporation so with this info what are we going to do rsvp

  2. Domenic- Not sure I see the connection between your stated 250/person/night and the stated 520/month housing subsidy that leads you to believe shelters are corrupt? 1)520/month does not go very far in Toronto 2)Money spent by an individual is nowhere near equivalent to money spent by an organization-building rents, upkeep of the building (paying cleaners, repairpeople, washing linens) means that costs at a shelter are not comparable to individual living costs:

    Shelters have a lot higher fixed costs than individuals. And even if you were correct about shelters being corrupt, it is all the more reason to have them serve as transitional housing only rather than the ongoing role they serve as pointed out in Park’s post above.

  3. I think underlying this is that – for both financial and ideological reasons – poverty is treated as though it’s a temporary condition requiring only a few injections of support, instead of a chronic condition that requires long-term, consistent, accessible, holistic and coordinated support across the spheres of mental health, housing, employment, etc.

    In other words, poverty is an unsustainable financial situation that’s regularly confused for a crappy but sustainable financial situation.

    If poverty were a crappy but sustainable financial situation, it wouldn’t be poverty, because it would just take a little help and some coupon-saving to hoist yourself out of it. It would be called something else, like being “broke” or “down on your luck” or “having financial troubles”. Sure, you wouldn’t be able to afford “the finer things”, but you’ll still be able to feed yourself and your kids, take care of your medical needs, and keep a roof over your head.

    Since poverty is, however, an unsustainable financial situation, that means you’re seriously fucked and you literally cannot sustain quality of life. In other words, you have so little money that your financial crap is, more likely than not, going to sabotage another life pillar. You’re going to lose your housing, and/or become disabled, etc. Staying afloat is difficult or impossible.

    Interestingly, people tend to think that someone who is disabled AND poor AND unemployed is the “fringe”, the unlikeliest case – but in fact, losing one pillar makes you disproportionately likely to lose another. When you lose your housing, you’re significantly more likely to lose your health. When you lose your health, you’re significantly more likely to lose your job income. When you lose your job income, you’re significantly more likely to lose your housing. And so on.

    This means part of the key is getting all of someone’s life pillars back up, so that they don’t just immediately knock each other down again.

    And you really can’t do that – resurrect all the life pillars – with Toronto’s existing social services. They can only make a lifechanging difference to people who are very close to – or already in – a sustainable situation. And most of these people aren’t.

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