MYTORONTO Calendar Highlights Issue of Homelessness
Cari Kozierok is executive director of Ve’ahavta, an organization that mobilizes volunteers to support transformative change amongst people experiencing poverty and homelessness. – Canadian Jewish News photo
You’re on your way to a meeting downtown. Rushing along Bay Street, you barely notice the person sleeping on the cold, wet sidewalk with little more than some cardboard and a blanket to battle the elements. Or maybe you pass him by every day and wonder who is this individual and how you can help?
In Toronto, nearly 9,000 people experience homelessness, according to the 2018 Street Needs Assessment. Over 500 of these individuals “sleep rough” or live outdoors. With a shelter capacity of just over 7,000 beds and an average occupancy rate of about 95 per cent, it is easy to see why visible homelessness has become commonplace in our world-class city.
The problem of housing is one facing many Torontonians, with the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment costing over $1,200/month and a vacancy rate hovering around 1.2 per cent. Indeed, with almost half of all renters in the city, according to the 2018 Canadian Rental Housing Index, paying more than 30 per cent of their income on rent, the number of Torontonians at risk for homelessness is high. Many people face the instability of living paycheque to paycheque and are only one injury, illness or job loss away from life on the streets.
Individuals experiencing homelessness face stigma and isolation. In addition to the stress of not knowing where their next meal will come from and how they will stay warm and safe for the night, homelessness leaves many feeling as though they are without a face, without a voice. Ironically, it seems that the very visibility of homelessness has made the individual people experiencing it invisible.
Ve’ahavta, a Jewish humanitarian organization dedicated to sparking transformative change among people affected by homelessness, is the force behind the MYTORONTO photography program. Now in its third year, it provides a creative outlet for self-expression and a voice for those affected by homelessness while breaking down stereotypes and stigma.
Armed with single-use film cameras and basic training in the art of photography, this year’s participants snapped images of “Life in the City.”
Over 2,300 images were developed — with 52 selected for a public exhibit by a panel of artists, social service professionals and media personalities. Thirteen of the photos were chosen for inclusion in the MYTORONTO 2020 Calendar, which is available for purchase both online at mytorontocalendar.com and from vendors around the city. Vendors, people who have experienced homelessness, sell the calendars to produce some income for themselves and their families.
“There are artists who have brilliant talents and they’ve shown through this project what can happen when you put a little bit of power in the hands of the powerless,” says Bob, a third-time contestant.
When we ask ourselves, what can I, with responsibilities and pressures of my own, possibly do about homelessness in the city, what if a first step is something simple? In the eyes of every individual lies hope, talents and a story. Come and look into the eyes of a person who has experienced homelessness and appreciate the city as seen through those eyes.
Support individuals who have been affected by poverty and homelessness by purchasing a MYTORONTO 2020 calendar and greeting cards.