At least 70 homeless Torontonians have died so far this year, most never reaching age 50, according to new figures that startled city hall decision-makers.

“Seventy deaths in a city as wealthy as ours is an absolute failure on the part of everyone,” including politicians, Councillor Joe Cressy told fellow members of the city’s public health committee Monday after a presentation on the year-to-date statistics.

“I just don’t think we can claim to be the world’s most liveable city as 70 people die on our streets.”

Actually, 46 of them died indoors — usually at an inner-city hospital or homeless shelter — while four were recorded as dying outdoors and the place of death was not noted for 20 others in reports given to public health by various agencies.

The City of Toronto continues to allow its shelters to operate beyond 90 per cent capacity. Shelters remain strained, underfunded and without adequate resources.

The City relies on bandaids for very deep wounds.

Bandaid number one. The city absconds from its responsibility to provide shelter.

Bandaid number two. The city absconds from its responsibility towards homeless women.

Bandaid number three. The city absconds from protecting vulnerable people during inclimate weather.

When the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness came out with a definition of Canadian homelessness in 2012, it didn’t sit right with executive board member Jesse Thistle. Which is odd, considering he spent his 20s cycling in and out of homelessness.

“[They] framed it around being unhoused, and there’s a range of unhoused conditions. And I was like, this is not articulating my experience as an Indigenous person with prior [homelessness] experience,” Thistle said in a phone interview with The Tyee last week.

“I said, we need … to articulate what the problem is. [But] we don’t even know what the problem is because no one’s properly defined it.”

His fellow board members listened and asked Thistle if he, now housed and an academic, wanted to take the lead on defining homelessness from the Indigenous perspective.

British Columbia is planning to introduce a pilot program that would give some residents a basic income in what will be part of a series of legislative strategies to fight poverty, the minister in charge said Monday.

Poverty Reduction Minister Shane Simpson said his government wants to test the effectiveness of providing people with a basic income to reduce poverty, improve health, employment and housing prospects.

The NDP government is consulting with other jurisdictions that have similar programs.

Jesse Thistle is the Resident Scholar on Indigenous Homelessness at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. This makes him one of Canada’s foremost experts on the subject, and for good reason: he’s been homeless himself. On October 26 he published a new definition of Indigenous homelessness that he hopes will spur decision-makers to shift how they deal with Indigenous people who end up on the street.

Jesse was on and off the street for over 10 years. “I got into some serious trouble with the law, and I was court ordered to go to rehab and sort myself out,” he told me. Eventually Jesse was able to get through rehab, and has now been sober since June 2008. “Part of me trying to figure myself out and my 12 steps was to go back and evaluate my past,” Jesse said.

What he found there was a deep sense of loss. “When I talk to residential school survivors, or people who have been taken by adoption like me and my brothers, our homelessness started in childhood when we were taken from our families,” he said. “From there, the loss of culture, the loss of identity, not knowing what’s your place in society, that leads to homelessness.”

The latest Census data simply confirms the reality that racialized people, people who are recent immigrants, and Indigenous people continue to face discrimination and that income inequality doesn’t just magically reverse itself. That takes political leadership.

It’s time for the federal and provincial governments to make concrete commitments to implement policies that will reduce income inequality in ways that will show measureable progress in the 2021 Census. This will require policy development, implementation, and hard dollars.

People without access to a healthy food option, like a grocery store, are considered at-risk by Elgin-St. Thomas Public Health.

They were highlighted in a report submitted to the local Board of Health, identifying “food deserts” – areas without access to healthy food – in Elgin and St. Thomas. Food deserts are urban areas more than one kilometre from healthy food, and rural areas more than 16 kilometres from healthy food.

“We have seen that there are pockets in St. Thomas, Aylmer, and Port Stanley,” said Kendall Chambers, registered dietician with the public health department. “But we’re more worried about rural areas, [especially] in East Elgin. That’s where we’re focusing.”