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A speech given by Bri-anne Swan, Minister for Social & Ecological Justice and Network Support, on September 6th, 2020 to supporters of the Interfaith Coalition to Fight Homelessness.

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Demonstrators in support of Residents at the Roehampton Hotel-Shelter

Photo Credit: John Ryerson

Thank you, Rafi, and the Interfaith Coalition to Fight Homelessness, for inviting me to be here today.  I am happy to be among friends this afternoon but sad for the reason we are here together.

I was sad while reading about the welcome, or rather, the lack of welcome, the residents of the Roehampton Hotel-Shelter have found in Mid-town. I was sad. I was disappointed. Maybe a little bit angry.

But also kind of hopeful.

I am glad — I’m glad many of the residents of Mid-town are outraged at the sight of poverty in their neighbourhood. I’m glad that they are shaken at the sight of needles, at the sight of mental illness, at the sight of what happens when people fall through every conceivable crack and canyon of this society.

I’m glad they are outraged because it is outrageous that in a city as affluent as Toronto (and as wealthy as Canada) this level of poverty continues to exist.

But poverty is never the fault of the poor. And so, I am glad there is outrage, and am also hopeful that the outrage can be redirected — away from the most vulnerable people in this situation, away from our friends at the Roehampton Shelter-Hotel, and towards the political and corporate leaders who actually have some power to create sustainable and effective long term housing solutions that address the systemic sins of poverty, ableism, racism and classism in this city. We find ourselves in a collective, spiritual crisis if we become comfortable with the idea that poverty can exist, just so long as we don’t have to see it as we walk our kids to school.

And since some residents of Mid-town have demonstrated their adeptness at organizing and protesting, I hope the next time groups (such as the Interfaith Coalition to Fight Homelessness) demand the City of Toronto step up, we can count of the residents of Mid-town to show up. I hope that we can count on Councillor Josh Matlow to show up too, because the residents of the Roehampton Hotel are now his constituents as well.

I just have to believe that everybody is just trying to do the best they can.

The residents of Roehampton need supports. They need kindness. They need more than merely a stopgap.

Because, poverty is never the fault of the poor.

If we’re outraged when forced to witness poverty,
We should be outraged it exists at all.

Thank you.