It was supposed to be a safe, affordable home for Ontarians with nowhere else to go. But inside, it was horrifying: “The inside of the house was almost like you could almost see the bones of someone who had been killed.”
What started as a private housing crisis for the city’s poor has become a public-health disaster.
A growing number of Ontario’s homeless and poor are sick, with the most common symptoms being colds, flu-like illnesses and respiratory infections.
While there is no single cause or cure for homelessness or the health crisis, experts believe living conditions in shelters contribute to the problem. Health problems can stem from overcrowding or substandard hygiene, inadequate medical facilities, the lack of personal care, or the high number of people with untreated, chronic health conditions.
According to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, there are more than 30,000 homeless people across the province, and the number of people living in non-hospitals is growing.
“There are significant numbers of people who are homeless and living in these spaces,” said David Clark, deputy public health inspector for Toronto, who has been investigating the health of homeless people.
“They are sick and they’re very sick. They have very few, if any, resources,” he said.
The health crisis has been driven by public health agencies such as Toronto Public Health that are trying to figure out the causes of the outbreak. Toronto Public Health is working closely with Toronto city managers, staff, and the Ontario Health Ministry to ensure that its plans for dealing with the problem are effective. But with limited resources, they don’t have the resources to adequately examine causes, Clark said.
Dr. Peter Piot (left), director of the Institute for Global Health Innovation and the Institute for Integrated Health and Social Protection at the University of Toronto, and Dr. David Clark (right), deputy public health inspector for Toronto Public