As the cold weather sets in, shelters fill up and more people are inclined to help the homeless. Though Premier Doug Ford has ceased homelessness enumeration reports, it is suspected that the number of homeless people in Ontario has continued to grow. Yet, within this crisis, there is a far bleaker one that is not being discussed: disability and homelessness. The two are not typically thought to intersect, but the Conservative era is making it an increasingly unassailable. Right-wing ideologies already fail the homeless; they are not suited to understand the particular vulnerabilities and challenges of the disabled homeless population.
According to the AODA website, 15% of Ontarians have a disability. In real numbers, that equates to about 2.6 million people. A self-reported survey from the Centre for Social Justice and Compassion has shown that about 45% of these 2.6 million people are homeless. Premier Doug Ford claims to be “for the people”. Yet, his ableist attitude, policies and cuts will not only put a strain on disabled Ontarians and our families, but and increase instances of homelessness for people with disabilities in Ontario.
For people with disabilities, obtaining housing is a lengthy process that occurs in stages. It can take up to a decade for a person with a disability to secure housing. This is largely because accessibility is not standard and typically relegates people with disabilities to a reliance on provincially-funded, geared-to-income housing and independent living centres. Ford’s cuts and policies have made the process more difficult at every stage.
The path to housing begins with applying for ODSP, as a stable income is required. This is the preferred first step due to the challenges disabled people face in the labour market, and it is a signifier for independent living centres. ODSP statements are looked at as a way to assess the need for housing. However, access can be denied if your income is below a certain level. The previous government was set to raise ODSP rates by 3% to keep up with inflation. Ford slashed this in half, defending the choice by allowing people on ODSP to earn up to $300 a month. Unemployment of disabled people is not for lack of effort. The cuts are blind to this and will ensure fewer people access housing.
The next step is applying to independent living centres or geared-to-income housing. Currently, there are only 12 independent living centres, two accessible shelters and an average of seven accessible geared to income units per municipality in Ontario. This is not enough to serve 2.6 million people. Furthermore, in February, Ford pulled $3.1 million in funding for an independent living facilitation network serving Bruce County. Instead, he matched the federal government’s $1.3 billion investment to Toronto’s community housing services. This is superficially beneficial and only serves to perpetuate Ontario’s accessible housing predicament.
Unlike independent living centres, accessible geared-to-income units do not allow for residents to receive attendant services and stipulate that potential residents must be fully independent to receive housing. However, the majority of people with disabilities require a personal support worker. Moreover, the funding shift makes services unavailable to rural communities. Community services have suggested that parents take on a more involved caregiving role or look into nursing homes for their disabled adult children. The financial burden is heavy either way; it is a choice between a reduced income or the cost of a nursing home. The psychological strain on disabled adults is worse. There is an overall lack of socialization, lack of independence and the feeling of being a burden.
Home ownership is the final stage of attaining housing. Few disabled people get to this point, as accessible houses are usually custom-made and costly. An accessible home can cost anywhere from $500,000 to over $1 million. This is unrealistic for financial reasons, but Ford suggested solving this problem using supply and demand economics. He intended to open the greenbelt for development. This idea fails to understand that more generic housing will not help.
A solution has been presented by Spinal Cord Injury Ontario’s report. They suggest the province increases the stock of accessible geared-to-income housing that meets AODA standards and provides incentives and standardization certificates of accessibility for private properties. I mostly agree. However, I would also strongly suggest that ODSP rates should increase and personal support be allowed in geared-to-income situations. Finances and assistance, the two largest determining factors in a disabled person’s housing journey, are overlooked by SCIO.
The solutions are clear and feasible. However, as our government willfully ignores the crisis, the situation will worsen. Such is unsurprising given Ford’s ableist history. From 2014 remarks about the Griffin Centre for Developmental Disabilities and Mental Health ruining a neighbourhood to consistently refusing interaction with disabled people at public events, Doug Ford has consistently shown a disregard for disabled lives. This neglect will cause the accessible housing crisis to grow like an untreated fungus. So one question remains. Mr. Ford, we must ask once again, if you are not for 2.6 million people, who are you for?
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