Sunlight beats down on the pavement of Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square. Throughout the square, people sit on the ground, framed by only thin slivers of shade.

As usual, they have coffee cups beside them to collect change, but today, many are asking passersby for something else: a bottle of water.

Homeless people, more than anyone else, are vulnerable to the elements – a concern the city of Toronto is familiar with, as every winter those left out of crowded shelters face plunging nighttime temperatures. But street nurses, outreach workers and others say that the city’s strategy to address the issue, while evolving, is undermined by a misunderstanding of what it’s like to be homeless in summer weather.

Lize Keenan credits a Charlottetown women’s shelter with saving her life.

The 51-year-old woman, known to friends as “Miss Hollywood” for the considerable attention she gives to her make-up and colourful attire, found herself homeless for the first time in May.

She was evicted – she believes unfairly – from an apartment in the capital city.

She could not find a place to stay. So, she made her way to a graveyard for the night.

Then another one. And five more nights after that.

“I had no choice,’’ says Keenan.

“Coming Together to End Homelessness” estimates the city invests $32 million a year into the sector and notes charities in the “broader social safety net” contribute about $550 million in relevant services.

The strategy focuses on data analysis, a by-name priority list, co-ordinated services and information sharing between agencies for calibrated responses to each person’s situation.

There’s also an emphasis on “diversion” from shelters via rapid rehousing or other services, such as transitional, supportive housing and “intensive case management,” as well as preventing homelessness in the first place.

It makes a big difference, walking into school on the first day with a new backpack and supplies, versus carting in the tattered bag from last year.

In Dufferin County, over 14 per cent of children under the age of five live below the poverty line. In low-income households, back to school shopping can mean the phone or hydro bill doesn’t get paid, or that there won’t be groceries in the fridge.

“If kids are having to worry about supplies,” said Jennifer Moore, executive director of Dufferin Child and Family Services (DCAFS), she explains it hinders their academic performance.

If they’re worrying about food, school supplies or proper clothing, Moore says that’s energy and focus they could be using to learn.

In January 1998, I was glued to the television, watching the gruelling ice storm in Quebec and Eastern Ontario. I seriously contemplated going to help; the emergency shelter conditions and health needs I saw on the TV news coverage were so dire that they reflected what I was doing in Toronto. As soon as I made the decision to go, I was hit with a wave of emotion — my gut told me something was seriously wrong. I realized that to go was to deny that homeless people here, in Toronto, were also living in a disaster. A disaster that had no natural cause. I was overcome with grief and nausea as I realized that all the signs of an acute disaster (like the ice storm farther east) were present; a rapid rise in people de-housed, worsening health, increased infections, suffering and exhaustion.

But for homeless people, the power and heat were not going to suddenly turn back on. Conditions were not going to inevitably improve, freeing them to return home. Their emergency shelter stay was not short-term. There would be no compensation plan to reimburse them for their loss, no emergency re-housing plan either.

Basic Income Guarantee (BIG), as a public policy and program, is designed to respond to the belief that all people have the collective right to an income which allows them to live in good health and with dignity.

The PEI Working Group for a Livable Income works on Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) as its central long-term program. Our work has involved consultations with the PEI Community, lobbying public decision-makers and maintaining contact with the national movements for Basic Income Guarantee. Meanwhile we give close attention to the many ongoing conditions of low income in Prince Edward Island.

The P.E.I. Working Group for a Livable Income welcomes the recent motion No. 36 passed in the P.E.I. legislature, putting Basic Income Guarantee back on the government’s agenda.

We believe that the work on Basic Income Guarantee must include a statement of principles, such as that developed for P.E.I. by our working group in consultation with the community.

At this stage, we expect a viable design for Basic Income Guarantee in P.E.I. as a federal-provincial policy and program. P.E.I. is ready to identify preliminary goals, objectives, proposed success indicators and costs.