Waiting for an Apartment in Toronto: How Long is 8.5 Years of Homelessness

Toronto Homelessness

Did you know that the average homeless person in Toronto will wait eight and a half years to be housed in a two-bedroom apartment?

Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is a modern-day marvel in many respects. Here is a place where cultures intertwine, where over 140 languages are spoken amongst residents, where almost everyone is greeted with a smile. From the CN Tower, you can catch a panoramic view of the sparkling city in all of its glory. It is home to rich cafés and market spaces, French Chateaus, modern mansions, and classic Victorian residencies. Toronto is not just a coveted destination, but it’s also considered the fourth safest city in the entire world.

There’s one thing nobody in Toronto is safe from though. That’s homelessness.

As a testament to the fact that there’s no such thing as a utopia on planet Earth, Toronto fights a hidden, losing battle behind the scenes. Homelessness is a paradox in this city known for its wealth.

Not everyone in Toronto is prospering. Those who’ve hit rock bottom have a long, arduous road ahead. For Toronto’s working class, affordable housing is a luxury more and more people cannot afford.

Homelessness in Toronto Has Risen by a Jaw-Dropping 60% in Just Two Years

The culprits of these sweltering statistics are almost always the same:

  • Lack of affordable housing
  • Limited funding for outreach
  • Stagnant wages falling out of sync with rent increases
  • Outdated outreach policies
  • Domestic abuse and more

The wide assortment of complex factors contributing to the ever-growing problem are easy to overlook, particularly when they’re not directly affecting you. In fact, a recent Toronto-based poll concluded that 87% of Torontonians agree that affordable housing is the answer to the crisis. They simply don’t want affordable housing positioned in their own neighborhoods. The “Not In My Backyard” argument adds insult to injury as more than 96,828 people add their names to the subsidized housing wait list.

Many who cannot afford housing will wait. They will wait for years, but it will feel like an eternity.

On Average, A Homeless Person on a Subsidized Waiting List Will Wait 8.5 Years to Acquire a 2-Bedroom Apartment

Eight and a half years is a long time by any stretch. It’s more than two average length football careers. It is all of early childhood. It’s high school times two. In such a timespan, one could easily complete two four-year college degrees or earn a Ph.D. A president could sit in the White House for two consecutive terms. An astronaut could make 16 flights from Earth to Mars and back. A mayfly could live and die 2,920 times over. But these are comfortable Earth years we’re discussing. Homeless years are entirely different, not metaphorically, but scientifically.

Time isn’t just a number. It’s also a perception.

The length of time it feels like is passing is often gauged by positive or negative experiences. Studies show that when thrust into circumstances of extreme danger, the amygdala section of the brain goes into overdrive, creating duplicate memories of the shocking experience as a way of keeping the event richer, more memorable, and more believable. As a result, individuals can use the experience to draw conclusions and help avoid danger in future situations. But also, in hindsight, the experience will look and feel like it took longer than it actually did. Scientists are now working to use this information to show yet another link between negative experiences and mental illnesses like schizophrenia.

Meanwhile, for individuals who are living without housing, every day creates a dangerous experience that seems to last much longer than it actually has. So, while you might remember those high school years as dragging by, you can only imagine how much longer they would feel if you had no place to go home to.

Every Day A Person Is Homeless, They Face New Threats

Homelessness can happen in an instant. What most people remember most vividly is the first night. But each consecutive night evokes new dangers looming.

Chronic homelessness can take a toll on nutrition, which inevitably leads to health problems. The longer a person lives on the streets, the more often they are exposed to harsh weather conditions. The more time spent in shelters, under bridges, or on sidewalks equals less time spent in fulfilling occupations or with family members. For the hidden homeless, sofa stays won’t likely be extended for this many years. Kind-hearted relatives might still feel the strain of doubling up for nearly a decade.

For people already sleeping rough, each additional night equates to a long string of building a collection of belongings, losing them to thieves and sweeps and starting again and again with nothing. Just imagine what a shoe looks like that’s been worn day and night for eight and a half years. Imagine a woman going eight and a half years without tampons. That’s eight and a half years of missed dental visits, physicals, and even hospital stays.

As the years take their toll, finding employment becomes that much more difficult. Tattered clothes and declining health rarely land anybody a second interview. And each year, in Toronto, about 100 homeless people die. How many of them do you think were on the waiting list? How long is eight and a half years?

Toronto Needs More Affordable Housing

Today, in Toronto, Canada, a minimum wage worker must work a 90-hour week in order to afford a place to live. Even those who have a place to live are often doubled up. This is what happens when housing prices are not consistent with wages, when government seeks Band-Aid solutions for real-life problems.

Talk to your legislators about budgeting for building affordable housing. Your one call could cut the wait list time significantly.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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