Toronto is facing a poverty epidemic. With a myriad of social and economic crises, there is no denying these compounding challenges must be addressed both in the short term and long-term.
There is no denying that Toronto is in the midst of a housing crisis. More than 10,000 people have been actively homeless in the past three months and we are seeing an increasing number of refugee claimants and asylum seekers among those seeking shelter. For someone looking to rent a one-bedroom apartment, they must be prepared to pay an average of $2,521 a month. Even those with housing aren’t protected from the storm. Applications for personal use eviction are up 77% in Toronto, forcing countless tenants to re-enter the housing market under difficult circumstances.
High rents and soaring grocery prices have pushed 1 in 10 residents to rely on food banks, double what it was last year. Almost 1 in 4 households in Toronto are food insecure and struggle to afford the food they need.
The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on people’s mental health and wellbeing and we have yet to recover from that. Data cited in Toronto Foundation’s recent Vital Signs report show that almost a quarter of Torontonians have reported symptoms of a major depressive disorder, and one in five has symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. This is mostly unchanged from early 2021. We know that frontline workers, caregivers, and youth have suffered significantly from the pandemic and are continuing to feel that burden.
Despite Toronto being considered safe at national and international scales, for many residents, particularly low-income communities members who are 2SLGBTQ+ individuals, racialized and Black residents, their sense of safety is slipping away. Systemic racism and biases in policing mean that Black, Indigenous and racialized people are disproportionately affected by the use of force and strip searches by police. According to the Toronto Police Services’ 2022 report, Black people were 2.2 times, Indigenous people were 1.6 times, and Middle Eastern People were 1.3 times over-represented in enforcement actions.
Toronto is also facing a serious drug toxicity crisis, fuelled by a dangerous, unregulated drug supply and exacerbated by social and health inequities. It is estimated that there were 509 opioid toxicity deaths in Toronto in 2022, representing 271% increase since 2015.
Our city is facing multiple crises but poverty is the common thread across them all
According to the 2021 Census, 13.2% of all Torontonians live in poverty, with higher levels amongst immigrants, seniors (especially older women), children and families, and racialized Torontonians, with the highest rates experienced by Arab, West Asian, and Korean communities. Poverty levels reach 31% amongst non-permanent residents. Due to the historical and ongoing effects of colonization, Indigenous residents in Toronto also face extremely high rates of poverty. People with disabilities are more likely to experience deep poverty. Poverty is also unevenly distributed across the geography of the city. Although poverty is concentrated in the Downtown, pockets of poverty can also be found in numerous areas. And we know that these numbers mask a temporary decrease in poverty levels due to pandemic and other government benefits. Toronto’s poverty rate is higher than all other urban centres in the GTHA. It is also higher than the provincial (10.1%) and national (11.1%) rates of poverty.
Social services are feeling the pressure
The collective well-being of our city is in dire straits and many of our social service providers are at a breaking point. As residents, even those working full time, continue to struggle to afford the cost of living in Toronto, free and low-cost services are in high demand. The past year saw record-breaking food bank usage: Daily Bread Food Bank and North York Harvest reported 2.53 million food bank visits, a 51% year-over-year increase. According to Toronto’s Dashboard, 15,000 children are on the waiting list for childcare and 85,000 households are on the waiting list for social housing. Over 9,000 individuals access Toronto’s shelter system each night, well exceeding the City’s target of 90% capacity. On average, 278 people are turned away each day from accessing a shelter bed.