On and Off the Street: Is Homelessness A Social Problem?

History of Downtown Toronto

Downtown Toronto, 1930 (courtesy of BlogTO)

The issue of homelessness is an extremely sensitive and controversial topic; however, it is significant to note that this ongoing issue should be publically recognized and accepted as a social issue.

The emergence of a working class and a large homeless population coincided with the industrialization of the city in the 1850’s. Furthermore, the East of Downtown Toronto within the 1950′s was home to Canada’s largest skid row.

Read more about the history of “skid row” and the transition to the word “homelessness,” according to Bill Bosworth, now researcher on housing issues, but working with men’s shelters in the early 1970s.

The Involvement of Ryerson

In 1852, Egerton Ryerson founded Ontario’s first teacher training facility, the Toronto Normal School. Later on, in 1948, the Ryerson Institute of Technology was founded which inherited the staff and facilities of the Toronto Training and Re- establishment Institute. Throughout the years, not only had the name changed, but the many expansions of the University created new and more developed infrastructures. The history of Ryerson includes many factual incidents including the various name changes, the focus of the university and new buildings that were being developed, however one thing seemed to continuously be left out of the history. That fact was that Ryerson Polytechnical University (named so at the time), expropriated the Yonge Street Mission Youth Centre in 1966. In all the histories explaining Ryerson University, this fact has been excluded, however what remains in most archives and databases is the statement that simply “In 1966, its [Ryerson] name was changed to Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.”

Furthermore, the Ryerson Campus has too seen its share of the homeless population. Not only are individuals scattered near campus, but also there seems to be an invisible barrier preventing many from entering the grounds of campus.

For over a century, Yonge & Dundas has been a centre for sheltering and charity of people suffering from homelessness and poverty. A key institution in this struggle has been The Yonge Street Mission, whose name remains etched in stone, now housing its Evergreen Youth Shelter.

Read more about The Yonge Street Mission


Yonge Street Mission
Yonge Street Mission – Evergreen Youth Shelter


Causes of Homelessness

The Youth surveyed, for the most part, become homeless for reasons beyond their control and believed were beyond their capacity to resolve. Youth emerging from foster care, being kicked out, lost housing, or fleeing unsafe homes (none of which they can resolve themselves) make up almost exactly half of the population (49.8%)


Changing Patterns For Street Involved Youth/ [Electronic Resource] / Submitted By Public Interest. Toronto, Ont. : Yonge Street Mission, [2009] (Saint- Lazare, Quebec : Gibson Library Connections, 2010).

Implementation of Policies and Regulations

According to the Ontario Coalition against Poverty (OCAP),

“The mayor, and city politicians, want the public to believe that the city is taking care of the needs of the poor and thehomeless- in reality, homeless men and women are suffering and dying on our streets. The City of Toronto has abandoned many poor and the homeless people who live on its street and in its shelters.”

Those in authoritative positions in the City of Toronto have implemented programs, such as the Safe Street Act, 1999, to address the social issue of poverty and homelessness, however they have failed to meet their needs.



Read more about: The Ontario Safe Streets Act (1999)

“The homeless stand as vigilant warriors battling for public spaces belonging to us all.”

Homeless people are affected by the overt control exercised over their lives by institutional forces. Due to their being un-housed, they are subject to the controls imposed by forces such as private and public policing, as well as governmental control.There is an elimination of spaces where homeless people can live and sleep, resulting in the criminalization of these individuals and therefore the law makes it impossible for them to live and thereby threatens their rights.


Case 1: Nathan Phillips Square

Case 2: Police Brutality at the G20

Case 3: Beaten to Death

With the upcoming emergence of the new Ryerson Student Learning Centre, there will be an increase in security provisions and policing surrounding the area. As the homeless population has already been displaced due to the emergence of new infrastruces within the downtown district, specifically Yonge- Dundas, we believe there will be an even greater displacement and “hiding” of the homeless population as a social problem in this vicinity.

“Poverty is not a crime and the poor should not be criminalized” – OCAP


About Ryerson On Yonge

A course in the Faculty of Arts, we have been studying the history of the neighbourhood around Yonge and Dundas, and Ryerson campus, in order to consider the social context and cultural importance of the new Student Learning Centre, which will occupy 341 through 355 Yonge Street. This blog is not an official Ryerson publication, and is a student-composed analysis of campus and its neighbourhood.
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2 Responses to On and Off the Street: Is Homelessness A Social Problem?

  1. Pingback: Making Ryerson Yonge | Ryerson On Yonge

  2. Pingback: Making Ryerson Yonge | Ryerson On Yonge

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