The following is a story written by Tony Black, a social worker at the Fred Victor Centre in Toronto, and is based on facts given to him by a client. It gives a detailed account of the efforts of a single mom of two to obtain suitable housing for her family only to find doors being shut at almost every turn. While the details of her experience are not all ones that we see each day, it is a very true illustration of the gaps in services that exist in the city, and which many people do face each day.
How Many Times Can A Person Hear No?
Living in an upper class neighbourhood with a husband and two children for 14 years, in a nice home with family close by, did not prepare me for the position I find myself in today.
I am currently a divorced woman with a 17-year-old son (who is autistic) and a 15-year-old son. I divorced my husband due to domestic violence. In order to afford the legal fees, I was forced to sell our home. After wearing out my welcome at the homes of family members, I was forced to leave the city, as I could not afford to rent a decent apartment for myself and my children in Toronto. This meant leaving my family, friends and supports. As a result, I have not been able to work, as I must home school my children and I have no one to assist me with caring for my eldest son, who requires constant supervision.
Over the past four years, as I have tried to provide a good life for my kids, I have heard the word “no” more times than I can remember … today I expect to hear nothing else. I receive child tax benefits and child support for my kids. Their dad does not have contact with them so refuses to assist, except for the child support. I attempted to obtain support from Ontario Works (OW) for myself, as the money I was receiving is meant for the children. I was surprised to discover that because the money I receive for the children exceeds what I would receive for the family, I am not eligible to receive OW support for myself. I struggle to get by every day.
I have applied to all the programs I know of that provide financial assistance for individuals living with developmental disabilities, but I have been told by all that autism does not qualify as a developmental disability. I have applied to all the programs I can find that provide assistance for individuals with autism, but I have been refused by all, as my son’s IQ is above their cut-off point. My son does well in school but is unable to cross the street on his own – this does not matter to any of the agencies.
I am on the waitlist of over 40 co-ops. I completed a Housing Connections application for Rent Geared to Income (RGI) housing with Toronto Housing. I was told that because I waited for two years after leaving the abusive relationship before applying, I did not qualify for Special Priority Housing. I am currently on the waitlist. I was told that I may be offered a unit in 12 to 15 years. I am online everyday but am not able to find appropriate housing at a cost I can afford in Toronto. I was in contact with a manager at the Fred Victor Centre regarding their new PanAm Housing. After a full year, I was told that I did not meet the criteria.
I have been applying to training programs and have been accepted into some, but could not follow through due to lack of housing and child care in Toronto. I began a home business through Employment Insurance’s Ontario Self-Employment Benefit program. Unfortunately, to date, the income I have received from this venture is $158.00.
Thinking back to life pre-divorce makes it difficult to recognize the woman I see in the mirror. I am in counselling for depression and anxiety and find myself in tears at least three days each week. Somehow my family is always just short of meeting the criteria for all the programs I have found. I have lost hope.
After being told that her family did not meet the criteria of the PanAm Housing, Tony’s client was referred to a case manager at Fred Victor to assist in acquiring housing. She worked with the case manager for three months and found herself becoming increasingly convinced that nothing would change for her. Fortunately the case manager discovered that, due to Fred Victor's partnership with Toronto Community Housing Corporation, the agency would be given 10 Rent Geared to Income units to fill, one of which was a two bedroom. While it may be a number of months yet before this family will be able to take possession of the unit, Fred Victor has decided to give that unit to her – turning what would have been a 12- to 15-year wait into under one year. This is not a resolution that we encounter very often. The vast majority of folks in similar situations struggle for years before they acquire suitable housing.