As she gets ready for her day, Kiley May Longboat puts away the blankets of her makeshift bed in a corner of the cold, empty room.
An old chair, two bags of clothes and some books lying on the floor are all that she owns.
“Everything I got is from the garbage,” she said.
After fleeing from domestic violence and living in shelters for some time, Longboat, 31, found a room for rent she can afford. She now lives on the top floor of a shared house with no heating in Kensington Market.
But, she said, the money she gets from social assistance is not enough to get by.
“Every month when I get my money from social services, I pay my rent, I pay my phone bill, I buy groceries and I have nothing left,” Longboat said. “The rest of the month I go to food banks and free meal programs, because it’s not enough.”
In June, Longboat applied for the Housing Stabilization Fund (HSF), a city program that helps people receiving social assistance pay rent, fight eviction and meet other housing needs, such as basic furniture. Last year the fund helped 37,000 people.
After filling out the HSF application and attaching letters from doctors, social workers and anti-poverty activists, Longboat thought she had built a strong case to be eligible for a bed and some other essential furniture.
If I could just get a bed I would be so happy. That’s all I want.
—Kiley May Longboat
A week later she received a rejection letter. She appealed, but was rejected again.
According to Toronto Employment and Social Services (TESS), Longboat did not qualify because the HSF is meant for people leaving a shelter or the street. Her situation was considered “stable housing”.
The news was astonishing, Longboat said.
“Even though I have a roof over my head my situation is not stable at all,” she said. “If I could just get a bed I would be so happy. That’s all I want.”
On April 17, the city’s Community Development and Recreation Committee met to review a 2013 report on the HSF, and to discuss some major problems with the accessibility of the fund and the consistency of the application of its policies.
According to the report, 4,776 Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program clients were ineligible for the HSF in 2013, and of the 554 reviews in the appeal process, more than half were overturned.
“That is of concern, I absolutely agree,” said Patricia Walcott, general manager of TESS. “When you have a lot of cases overturned it indicates that you have not had a sound communication in the beginning or not had right information to make a solid decision.”
Longboat said she feels she was one of the victims of the lack of clear communication.
“I had two workers telling me that I qualified [and] even though I have housing, I still qualify for furniture,” Longboat said. “The application doesn’t say you must be coming immediately out of a shelter.”
Longboat said she fears she may not have been treated fairly because she is transgender and has a native last name.
“I know I’ve been treated funny when I go in there,” Longboat said.
At the April 17 committee meeting, Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam moved a motion to review the city’s approach to the development of policies and application forms to ensure the language they contain is inclusive to all residents.
“We want to make sure that vulnerable communities are going to be given some particular attention — including those who have historically been excluded, such as LGBT, aboriginals, and people with different languages — so that the HSF policies are consistent with amendments to the Human Rights Code,” Wong-Tam said.
The 2013 report is set to be considered by city council on May 6.