Jackie Seymour doesn't have much more than her clothes, her
friends, and her faith, she says, tapping her soiled fingers on a
purple Bible. "We're a family here."
Life with her husband in their plywood shack is lived day by day,
and it's a good morning when everyone fared well the night before.
"Everyone's doing alright today," says Jackie's husband Doug, as he
returns from his morning rounds.
Welcome to Tent City, a patch of industrial land in Toronto's
port district where some 50 people live in homes cobbled out of
scrap wood, donated "DuraKit" shelters, and anything that can be
nailed to a two-by-four. Framed by a glittering skyline, the
shantytown is a blue-plastic icon of a new social reality: Many of
Canada's cities are beginning to resemble the ugly side of America.
Tonight, 5,000 people in Canada's largest city will sleep in
shelters - five times the average number a decade ago.
"For Canadians, this is a big shock," says John Anderson,
research director at the Centre for Social Justice in Toronto. "We
did not see this until this decade. Now, people are stumbling over
homeless people in the streets."
Once considered a "nanny state" with generous public healthcare,
education, and unemployment programs, Canada has been whittling away
social spending for the past 17 years. In the 1980s, like the US and
Britain, a new generation of conservative Canadian leaders began
preaching the benefits of deregulation, privatization, and cutting
government spending. If it was going to succeed in free trade,
argued then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Canada needed to level
the playing field with the US by trimming the budget.
"The trends are parallel with the US, but there's a difference,"
Dr. Anderson says. "In Canada, you're starting from a more highly
developed welfare state. So when you cut back, the effects are often
Now, as the cost of living rises and a housing shortage spans the
country, the people squeezed are those on the economic fringe.
"The situation is very grave and getting worse rapidly," says
Jack Layton, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities,
the umbrella group for local governments. He estimates 1 million
households are one rent check away from becoming homeless.
In Toronto, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is
$1,000 (Canadian; US$642). And nationwide, there is a dearth of
units available - about one-third the normal rate.
"To rent an apartment in Toronto with a full-time minimum-wage
job, you would require your whole pay check to cover rent," says Mr.
Of the thousands of homeless on Canada's streets, only 7 out of
100 are "chronic" - permanently unable to house themselves, says
David Hulchanski, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto
and the author of several studies on homelessness. Everyone else is
homeless for just a few nights or for brief periods, and the biggest
segment of those is families. "You may be able to pay $600 or $800 a
month on rent, but you just can't find a place for that price," Dr.
There are no exact numbers of homeless - only tallies of people
using the shelter system. That does not include the estimated 1,000
a night who end up on park benches or here at Tent City. …