Social networks are changing social work, for better and for worse


Link to my latest’s Toronto Star feature on the changing face of social work:

And the PDF


Mental Health campaigners cite ‘landmark victory’ after NZ court rules abuse can cause schizophrenia

Mental Health campaigners are citing a ‘landmark victory’ after a District Court judge in New Zealand upheld an appeal by a sexual abuse survivor against a decision (in relation to a claim for financial compensation) that sexual abuse can not cause schizophrenia.

The opinion of two psychiatrists that there is no evidence of a causal link was overturned when a third psychiatrist, David Codyre, presented what the research actually says.

The judge overturned the decision, citing the work of Clinical Psychologist Dr John Read and a previous UK judge’s similar decision.

Here’s a link to the ruling:

Hunger in Toronto

Here’s my latest Torontoist piece on hunger in Toronto. A first world city that’s recovered from the recession but where many still go without food.

Hunger Report

The 2013 edition of the Daily Bread Food Bank’s annual “Who’s Hungry: A Tale of Three Cities” report, which was released earlier today, says that although the number of people accessing food banks in the GTA has stabilized with the economy, certain groups are becoming more marginalized than ever, in part because of high rents and a lack of full-time work.

Vulnerable groups being left behind as the city prospers include boomers with disabilities, immigrants, and people on social assistance, all of whom often go hungry in order to pay the bills.

Here are some of the report’s other findings.

The Numbers

For the fifth year in a row, GTA food banks have had over one million visits. But different areas are seeing different trends.

In Toronto’s city core between April 2012 and March 2013, the report says, food banks saw about the same number of visits they did in 2008. Effectively, demand for food has fallen to pre-recession levels.

But it’s a different story in the city’s inner suburbs, where food bank visits during that same period of time still exceeded 2008 levels by 38 per cent. In the 905 region, visits were up 19 per cent over 2008 levels.

Based on more than 1700 interviews with users of food banks, the study says 40 per cent go hungry at least once per week. (Hunger is defined as not eating a full meal, not eating a balanced meal, or not eating at all.)

Why Are People Going Hungry?

“The main reason food bank visits remain so high is because 69 per cent of food bank clients are on social assistance,” the report says. It claims that a 60 per cent increase in social assistance payments would be needed to bring them in line with the cost of living.

Work isn’t a solution, either, in part because of a lack of available full-time jobs. And then there’s the fact that a $15 hourly wage often isn’t enough to lift people out of poverty, especially when they have to pay for expensive medications and other health-related treatments.

Number of people using Toronto food banks plotted against unemployment levels. Image from “Who’s Hungry: A Tale of Three Cities.”

Who’s Hungry?

The data shows that clients of food banks have an average monthly income of less than $700 and are spending close to three quarters of their income on rent.

“Food becomes a luxury,” the report says. “You need a roof over your head, and the risk of homelessness is very high in this situation. For some, this is a short-term crisis that lasts a few months, while others may have to manage this way for years.”

People visiting food banks in the inner suburbs and the 905 region are more likely to have families with children, whereas those in the city core are more likely to be single people with disabilities.

Data from the inner suburbs shows that people visiting food banks are often well-educated newcomers to Canada with children. They’re trying to get jobs, but are faced with numerous barriers to employment. The report says the situation in the 905 is similar.

The city core paints another “equally troubling picture”—that of an aging population, including many single people with disabilities.

How Do People Remain Hungry?

People interviewed for the report said they were hopeful that coming to a food bank was not a permanent “survival measure,” but rather a temporary solution to their problem.

In the GTA as a whole, according the report’s numbers, half of people going to a food bank had been doing so for 13 months or less. In the city core, though, the median length of time was 24 months.

“Those who have been coming for longer than two years are often receiving fixed incomes such as welfare or disability payments, and cannot sustain paid employment,” the report says.

Other Torontoist stories:

Toronto’s Breaking Bad viewing party: Head for Clinton’s on Bloor


NYC’s viewing party trend has hit TO.

Don’t have AMC? Or do you just want to watch this epic show with like-minded individuals?

Clinton’s on Bloor will be screening Breaking Bad this Sunday, and every week till the season ends.

According to the bar’s events manager the season premiere night was ” great and we almost had a full house. It’s a really, really fun night and we’ve created a special drink menu around it.”
So, you can sip on a bourbon-based Walter White, or a tequila-based Albuquerque, while trying to get through the tension of this brilliant show.

Torontoist posts: Homeless services under pressure, health cuts and urban isolation


Vulnerable seniors. A week after this article was posted a City of Toronto report found that the senior homeless population had doubled in four years. Worrying.

Homeless Youth:

Health cuts:

Irish famine park in Toronto still closed after three years

Generation Emigration

Irish famine park in Toronto still closed after three years

Monument funded by the Irish and Canadian governments remains completely inaccessible due to ongoing construction works

Mon, Jun 3, 2013, 20:00

Jennifer HoughA Toronto park dedicated to Irish famine victims and opened by former president Mary McAleese in 2007 has been shut for the past three years due to ongoing construction around it.Funded by the Irish Government ($500,000CND), Canadian government and private donors, the waterfront park is completely inaccessible, blocked by a building site with barricades and “no trespassing” signs.

When open, the $3.5 million park, run by the Ireland Park Foundation, is a moving memorial to Irish immigrants who arrived in the city in the late 1800s but died shortly afterwards from their illnesses. Between May and October 1847, 38,000 starving Irish arrived on Toronto’s Lake Ontario shore. More than a thousand of them died that summer.

The park houses a wall made of Irish limestone with the names of the dead immigrants who could be traced carved into it, and five bronze sculptures by international renowned artist Rowan Gillespie, depicting tragic famine-stricken figures.

The impressive wall is visible behind the steel barricades, and tourists can often be seeing trying to get pictures of it from the adjacent downtown carpark.

The closure has been chronicled in the city’s media as far back as 2010. In March of that year The Toronto Star reported that Ireland Park was “almost impossible to find, let alone reach” and that the city of Toronto was finally building a pathway in the area to make it easier to access the park.

However, that construction turned out to be more complex than first envisaged and reopening was delayed by further plans to build a pedestrian promenade along the waterfront.

In 2011 another story in the Star reported that: “A waterfront park that honours refugees from the Irish famine has been closed since 2010 and is unlikely to reopen until next year.”

In response city officials stated “access to the park should reopen early in 2012”. This date came and went too and still the park remained closed.

Chair of the Ireland Park Foundation Robert G Kearns said he would be thrilled to see the park reopened, but that it was a complex issue. He said currently a $5-million extension to the quay wall is being undertaken and once complete it will significantly enhance the park.

Mr Kearns said when finished it will provide a tree-lined lakeside promenade adjacent to the park and be a lasting legacy for hundreds of years to come.

According to the City of Toronto, the park is slated to be reopened by December. Watch this space.

Jennifer Hough is an Irish journalist living in Toronto. She previously wrote a feature for Generation Emigration on the Irish community in Saskatchewan in Leaving Ireland for Canada´s prairie provinces. Find her at @jenniferhros and