Imagine a city that recognizes poverty as a crisis. One that understands that short-term thinking produces much higher long-term costs, holding people and our city back. One that ensures we aren’t wasting millions on band-aid solutions, and instead creates a long-term system to move people out of poverty. A place where no child goes hungry, our seniors have resources, and every person has a roof over their head — regardless of their income. A city where we help set people up for long-term success.

We can’t solve systemic problems overnight, but here’s our plan to change the current course.

Plan Highlights 

  • Make supports more accessible and provide help where needed. Our plan starts with a revamped social services strategy to help people navigate our existing resources, as well as work on longer-term strategies to help break the cycle of poverty.  
  • Recognize economic disasters are emergencies. We’ll establish temporary crisis shelters on City land to help mitigate the shortage of shelter beds. Toronto’s population of unhoused people is now larger than the number of public elementary school teachers in the city. Unhoused deaths have surged 40% higher than pre-pandemic. With winter coming, that shortage of beds will mean more people will lose their lives. 
  • Decriminalize poverty. We’ll put an end to spending millions on violently evicting peaceful encampments, and put the funds towards real solutions to end the need for encampments.
  • A school food program. Canada remains one of the few industrialized countries without a national food program. We’re not running for mayor of Canada, but we’re going to fight to help the kids we can with better food security, and hopefully set an example for other Canadian cities.
  • Meal centers. No one should have to starve in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. It doesn’t have to cost much to mitigate this risk either, it just takes planning and dedication to make sure it gets done.
  • Adequate & safe community housing. Toronto has a community housing program, and that’s a good start, but it needs to scale. It also needs reliable and sustainable financing to help it grow, and we have a plan to get it there. 

The Problem 

Poverty is an individual problem that stems from many different factors that don’t have a single solution. Acute causes, such as economic shock like renovictions and soaring rents, or large emergency bills are such examples. Medium-term issues such as the inability to access government programs, like mental health & addiction resources, are common examples of this systemic failure. Then there are long-term factors, such as being unable to break the cycle of poverty that stems from the inequitable distribution of resources. A lack of jobs in your community, or the ability to get to work are a few examples of this.

It’s not okay for people to live like this, especially in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Short-sightedness on “saving” a few dollars in the short-run has resulted in an unbelievable bill the City foots. Poverty costs Toronto’s economy an estimated $5.5 billion per year, according to experts. In 2021, the City of Toronto spent $663.2 million to address homelessness and housing, almost double the amount in 2020. Things aren’t getting better though, we’re watching things crumble faster than ever. 

As many of you might have noticed, Toronto’s homeless population has been exploding in growth. The city estimates there are over 10,000 unhoused people currently, rising an average of 24 people per week over the past year.

The lack of resources we provide the unhoused is also turning into a morbid situation. This year Toronto is averaging 3.5 deaths of unhoused people per week. It’s a 40% increase from 2019, pre-pandemic volumes. With the median age of death at 35 years old, these deaths aren’t a result of old age.

If you tried to build a system that manufactured poverty in Canada, it would look a lot like the City of Toronto. It doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s fix it. 

The Solutions

Correcting years of neglect isn’t just going to reverse overnight and it certainly won’t be easy. We’re not naive — we know this can’t be solved in one term, but we need to treat it like the economic disaster and emergency it is. After consulting with anti-poverty experts and those living in poverty themselves, we have a multi-phase approach to this problem. We’re going to focus on addressing immediate, medium, and long-term issues. 

Just to point this out again, Toronto is a very wealthy city, there’s no reason we need to operate like this is a zero sum game. The City is spending a lot of money currently on these problems, it’s just not going where it can be best utilized. We can provide better services and make sure all our citizens have the dignity they deserve.

Creating Individual Plans To Help Address Poverty Barriers

Every instance of poverty is individual, which is why throwing money at the problem doesn’t just solve it. That’s why we need to track which solutions are working, and which areas people are struggling to get help. To do this, we plan to transform Toronto’s employment & social services department into the office of Equitable Solutions. 

Speaking to those who have used (or tried to use) the resources, we found a big issue is actually getting access to the resources Toronto supposedly delivers. This is partially due to our over-cased civil servants that are not allocated enough time to go through the programs. It also coincidentally results in artificially lower poverty statistics, since programs seem like they aren’t being used, because they aren’t needed. In reality many people who need them, just don’t know the resources exist, or how to access them.

We plan to build and maintain a portal to walk people through programs they may qualify for, and how to access them. For example, many of the low income residents we spoke to found it difficult to pay for public transit. However, they didn’t know about the City’s Fair Pass Transit Discount Program. 

To help break the cycle of poverty, the portal will also help us work together to find solutions. Do you need a skills upgrade? Childcare? Affordable housing? Medical services? Addiction counseling? Like we said, the systemic barriers of poverty are individual and Canada has many resources. We just need a central hub to help direct people to the resources they need. We also need to take the time to measure and track individual progress so we can move people out of the poverty cycle. Producing data points won’t be pretty once we see how bad things have become, but it’s the first step in reducing these issues long-term. 

Economic Disasters Are Emergencies, and Should Be Treated This Way

Economic disasters should be treated with the same urgency that we tackle any other disaster — it’s an emergency. That’s why our first plan is to declare Toronto’s expanding unhoused population, an emergency. Within the first weeks of being elected we need to immediately set up temporary crisis shelters on City-owned land, to get people their basic needs. Without this plan, Toronto will see a large increase in unhoused deaths, as it’s estimated the City is short thousands of shelter beds, and winter is quickly approaching. 

A safe place to sleep, shower, and get a hot meal are things we often take for granted. However, they’re life stabilizing opportunities that can prevent things from spiraling. As previously mentioned, providing resources to break down and address the individual causes of an individual’s experience, will be key to shortening the duration of homelessness. It’s not enough to provide shelter, but we need to get people on a path to a more sustainable future.

Stop The Criminalization of Poverty

Sleeping in parks isn’t a solution for Toronto’s 10,000 unhoused people. Neither is the City spending $2 million to direct our police services to carry out violent evictions, and hiring private security to continue the job afterwards. Our plan will stop the evictions immediately, and work towards actually getting people help — not just hiding the problem. 

The current system isn’t fair to residents, either the housed or unhoused. However, getting unhoused people help is the primary issue that needs to be addressed. 

End The Lucrative Business of Poverty & Track Where Spending Has An Impact

Yes you read that correctly, poverty right now is lucrative for some businesses. Many of our solutions might sound like a big cost that taxpayers will shoulder, but what people don’t understand is, we currently hemorrhage money on solutions that don’t work. For instance, Toronto’s auditor general found the City had been overbilled $13.2 million for emergency shelters. Hotels used for the unhoused had been charging millions in fees, including “vacancy” fees while people were literally sleeping in parks because they couldn’t access the resources. The auditor estimates the overage is the equivalent of paying for 50,000 hotel nights, or paying a year of rent at SROs for 1,375 people. We have money, the current leadership just doesn’t care where it’s going, or isn’t inclined to allocate it better. Either way, it’s not okay.

As a part of our anti-corruption & transparency plan, we will provide more funds to the underfunded auditor general. Corruption and fraud reports to the agency have increased by nearly 50%, and even though they’re recovering millions — they are intentionally, chronically underfunded. Those millions could go a long way to help reduce poverty in our city.

School Nutrition Program 

We are going to establish a school nutrition program to feed all of our students, making sure we have a proper start to the day. Our plan involves establishing a central commissary (or two), to produce food at scale and reduce costs. This will minimize on site preparation and help to reduce the labor barrier to preparation. Nutritious, low-cost, locally-sourced, unrefined, climate-friendly, and plant-based meals that are fast and easy. 

They’ll also be tasty, since one of our volunteers that helped with this plan is Chef Roger Yang, who runs some of the City’s most successful and innovative restaurants. 

Canada is one of the few industrialized nations to lack this kind of program. At the same time, the need is soaring at a mind-blowing speed — over 400,000 children now rely on food banks, and are often unable to find nutritious options. It’s also becoming a common problem for more families, as the cost of living and lack of time we all face are compounding into a more difficult situation. 

It’s already horrifying to hear about starving children, but it gets worse — this produces long-term barriers. Children who eat at school perform better, achieve higher grades, and have better attendance. There are also less obvious impacts that will help set up children for long-term success. 

U of T researchers found fewer than a third of students are eating adequate nutrition, and nearly a third were overweight. Providing balanced nutritious meals will keep children healthy and reduce the burden on the medical system as they age. 

Meal Centers To End Mass Hunger

If you live near a food bank or “soup kitchen,” you might have noticed the lines are getting very long. The economic disaster Canada is facing is leaving nearly 1 in 5 people across the country to skip meals. Toronto’s older food banks are saying they haven’t seen anything like this in the past 40 years — the need for help with food is turning into a depression-style state.

Say it with me, this shouldn’t be the case in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. 

The commissary kitchens designed to get food to our crisis centers and school food programs will also produce food for city-owned meal centers, and eventually help the non-profit “soup kitchens” that provided relief to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Torontonians for the past few decades. We spend so much on these programs as it is, we just don’t have harmonization of the system to reduce costs, reduce inefficiencies, and solve these issues without someone trying to get a cut of the money.

Our meal centers will also be an excellent opportunity to introduce people to our social services, and will create jobs for people who need work opportunities. Responding to a crisis isn’t enough. We need to proactively disassemble the barriers that cause poverty, and ensure we can help people get out of it. 

Expanding Toronto Community Housing

Toronto Community Housing is a fantastic concept, but it’s chronically underfunded and inadequate. It needs sustainable funding, which we plan to help offset by creating more medium density mixed-use buildings. Funds from the commercial component will go towards offsetting the operating costs, helping to ensure taxpayers aren’t stuck footing the bill for the economic crisis caused by monetary policy mismanagement. 

The City’s current development fund got a 5% cut in 2022. When inflation is soaring, cuts to the budget compound housing issues even further. That’s why it’s essential to establish more consistent and diversified funding, instead of just relying on property taxes. 

Our housing platform is also crucial to reducing the need for such a large scale of social housing. We plan to stabilize the market and reduce non-productive development costs, while turning our surplus lands into City-owned revenue sources — instead of selling it off for cheap to developers, and subsidizing their costs. 

While we know these ideas just scratch the surface, and additional planning and resources will need to be layered in, but we need to take this seriously. We need to drastically change how we handle poverty in Toronto, because that’s what a world class city does. It makes sure its citizens have what they need, and doesn’t leave people behind.