It was supposed to be a safe, affordable home for Ontarians with nowhere else to go. But inside, it was horrifying: a room so dark your eyeballs would explode when you blinked, and a toilet that would flush as quickly as water running down a drain.
It was just another grim, disorganized, and desperate-looking institution for the homeless and the working class to find refuge in every year. The place, operated by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), had been declared a social disaster.
Then in December, it was shut down by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
The agency, whose name roughly translates to “the human rights commission of Ontario”, investigated TCHC for violating the rights of residents, and found that the housing agency had, in fact, systematically discriminated against the most vulnerable among us. It found that at least eight people had died while at TCHC, that the staff had not adequately provided for their medical needs, and that the living conditions at the home were unsafe for seniors, the disabled, or those with mental health issues.
In response, the Commission launched a civil rights investigation into the alleged human rights violations at the agency, and in January, the commission settled with TCHC for $12.3 million. Of that, a $7.3-million payment was used to compensate victims of human rights violations in the form of housing.
But what is the point in finding a safe place for the homeless and the people on the margins, if it turns out to be unsafe in the end? One of the residents of Toronto’s TCHC, John, wanted to know.
We reached John through a friend in Toronto, and he invited us to meet him in his downtown north side neighbourhood. The meeting was held in a dimly lit room. The table was covered in cardboard boxes and plastic sacks filled with toilet paper for their neighbours. There were dozens of other cardboard boxes, and John pointed to a few men who stood around the edges of the room, smoking and talking to each other. There was even an old man sitting silently on a box.
When we arrived, he invited us to join him at his favourite spot, a spot that would soon become his grave. “When I