Illustration by Steve Murray
Q & A with Cathy Crowe
Story by Tammy Thorne
This story is from a previous issue of dandyhorse magazine. Cathy Crowe is now currently trying to get the City of Toronto to open up the armouries for the homeless people during the winter. Crowe started a change.org petition which can be signed here. Read on to see what Crowe has to say about biking in relation to Torontonians with low income.
Cathy Crowe is a street nurse and housing advocate who has worked in and around Canada’s first and largest social housing community, Regent Park, for decades. Crowe co-founded the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee in 1998 in an effort to have homelessness declared a national emergency. The social housing advocate took a few minutes to talk transit (and bike sharing and bedbugs) with dandyhorse while riding the 504 Kingstreetcar en route to baby-sit her grandsons, who, she says, love to ride their trikes.
In this issue of dandyhorse, we look at the Regent Park and CAMH redevelopments. What do you think of “social mix” housing?
I’m less familiar with CAMH, but spent a lot of time in Regent Park during my run [for MPP] in Toronto-Centre. I live in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood where that mix was developed. St. Lawrence is seen around the world as a model of that mix and it does work. It was possible during the time because we had a national housing program. Ideally, social mix is way better than ghettoizing populations, which means putting groups of people together whether they are disabled or low-income or whatever. As long as there are all the things you need there; like stores, safe streets, green space, and other things that make a good neighborhood, a healthy mix.
The problem is that you have to make sure that the people who already lived there have the right to move back. I have a friend who lives in the new TCHC building they just opened at 246 Sackville, just east of One Cole. It is an incredibly impressive building. You can see they’ve had the foresight to make this beautiful flooring that will help prevent bedbugs – a potential problem for any high rise in this city. They use a special laminated floor and because it’s not carpeted and it’s not wood, it’s much easier to clean and minimizes the possibility of infestations.
Can bicycles contribute to the lives of people living on the street?
It’s not that low-income people aren’t getting the health benefits of riding, but they aren’t going for 10-kilometre rides in the Don Valley. It’s more about them just riding to get to a shower, or to get a meal – riding from point A to point B. It’s economically driven. People can’t afford the TTC. Tent City on the lakeshore was isolated and people needed bikes to bring in essential items, like food. Also some people use the bike for reasons related to income, like collecting cans.
Do you support a bicycle sharing system in Toronto and should it be accessible to low-income users?
Regent Park would be a great community to pilot something like that in. Certainly, there is no question that it’s going to work in Toronto. I just think with all the funding going into these redevelopments, why not parcel a portion off and pilot something like a bike share program that would include low income people. Another big cost, or barrier for low-income people, is helmets and locks. At the youth group, Regent Park Focus, there are a tonne of bicyclists—and potential bicyclists— that would love a project like that.
What are some of the biggest issues in public health today? Solutions?
The biggest social issues are hunger, housing and the overarching issue of poverty, of course. I am thankful to be able to work where I can look upstream at solutions. Fighting for housing is the main solution.
What are some other ways we can make sure Toronto’s streets are safe?
I would like to see more access to sidewalks from the street; more sidewalk ramps. I do think lower speed limits in the city are very achievable. And I definitely want more bike lanes. They make so much sense.
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