May 22, 2019
As a community mental health social worker in downtown Toronto, I encounter the most extreme conditions of poverty and social inequality in the city. The people I work with are often forced to find shelter in profoundly undignified environments. Some pay upwards of $1,000 a month to share a shoebox-sized room with strangers in boarding homes where sickness is rampant and pest infestations are chronic. When I search for people in dangerously cramped city respite shelters, I’m struck by their resemblance to natural disaster relief centres. There is no privacy; there are rarely any showers; and leaving your “cot” means risking the few possessions you have to theft. I often reflect on how quickly my mental health would deteriorate should I ever wind up staying in one.