Shelter from the Storm
New and updated since first broadcast on CBC 55-minute documentary (educational version is 45 minutes)
The number of homeless people has increased dramatically since the mid-1990s and we haven’t seen this kind of destitution since the Great Depression. What can advocates for homeless people do to really change anything? This documentary follows one organization in its behind-the-scenes activity -- the strategizing, the debates and the actions – which is putting homelessness into the public arena and pushing governments to act.
A group of activists is working with residents of the now famous Toronto shantytown, Tent City, to move the community to a new location. This is one small campaign among many that the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee is working on to address the crisis in affordable housing.
Loss of rent control, sky-high rents, cuts to welfare payments and the fact that affordable housing is not being built are resulting in appalling levels of homelessness, overcrowding and despair amongst the working poor and the unemployed of Toronto, Canada’s largest city and its economic centre. All of this is happening while a supposed economic boom has been taking place.
The residents of Tent City fashioned their own shelters to ensure their survival. They want a chance to get back on their feet and to do that they need affordable housing. This abandoned land on the shores of Lake Ontario that they’re squatting on is toxic with old industrial pollutants. The owner, Home Depot, wants Tent City off. The City of Toronto and the provincial Ministry of the Environment want Tent City off.
The activists and the residents want a new site with city hall’s help. On city-owned property, they propose to build small dwellings designed especially by an architect with running water and electricity to serve as a model for homeless communities. Dealings with city hall range from co-operational to confrontational but finally city council orders its staff to work on a proposal with Tent City residents.
After much hard work, numerous delays and setbacks, the new proposal is shoved to the back burner. With the city’s emergency shelters still unable to accommodate the urgent need, more homeless people flock to Tent City. It grows to 120 residents.
Finally, after a wait of almost two years, Home Depot acts. The company evicts all the residents and shuts down access to the site. An invasion of city hall by Tent City residents and their supporters leads to the launch of a special rent subsidy program. If the former squatters can find themselves moderate apartments, the city will pay most of the rent.
Tent City is a small story of hope against the bigger story of a housing squeeze which is affecting tens of thousands of tenants and homeless people in Toronto and other cities.