Monday, May 19, 2008

It took a New Yorker to notice that most of Toronto's homeless are white, even though the city is only about fifty percent white, and (my assumption) non-whites are more likely to be poor. The Globe and Mail explored this question yesterday. When I thought about it, it surprised me. In New York and Chicago, I saw legions of homeless black men, but in Toronto, you tend to see mostly old white men, along with white adolescents and the odd native. Two or three natives have held a winter spot over the heating grate at King and Jordan, where I have seen them for over three years now. It's always been a mystery to me what happens to the homeless between the ages of 20 and 40.

The reason for our indigent monochromy (I prefer the term glass heating grate) is much the same as why you never really see a dumb Somali in Toronto, even though their country is in shambles, and that's being generous. Immigration has a funny way of screening out the crazy and the poor. Our immigrants come here with one or two or more university degrees to deliver one or two or more pizzas and consequently might be poor, but they're not susceptible to the same pressures as Toronto's homeless. As anyone who has ever talked to the homeless (in first-year, we talked about creating a large map indicating the habitat, territory and grazing corridor of prominent local transients) will know, there is a strong relationship between homelessness and mental illness. According to the article, about two-thirds of our homeless have problems with their mental health.

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