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This literacy class learns about Toronto's unaffordable housing situation

Students were consistently distracted about precarious housing, so that became the theme of the lessons.

Sidney Anson writes a response during a literacy class at West Neighbourhood House.

David Hains / Metro Order this photo

Sidney Anson writes a response during a literacy class at West Neighbourhood House.

Samantha Ventresca noticed that the students in her adult literacy class at West Neighbourhood House on Ossington Avenue were distracted for the same reason: they were concerned about Toronto's unaffordable and precarious housing.

Some, she says, would direct the conversation towards housing issues. For others, housing problems affected their well-being at home and their ability to study. So Ventresca, a 30-year-old volunteer at the community non-profit, decided to change the lesson plan. Instead of learning literacy through random news clippings, whenever possible they would read articles about housing.

Students who attended her class last week described varied but similar problems. After writing down what they would like to see in their housing situations – affordability and accessibility were common themes – students shared their personal stories.

Sidney Anson is 35 and first signed up for social housing in 2011. Since then, he has lived intermittently without a fixed address, and hasn't checked in with Toronto Community Housing each year to renew his spot on the list like he is supposed to. Classmates encouraged him to do so.

Tim Simpson, a 46-year-old who uses a wheelchair, lives in social housing. Despite his housing placement, he described ongoing challenges that include social isolation and the limits that come with living on a fixed income.

"I feel like I'm locked up in a jail," he said.

He added that the government needs to step up funding for shelter support and affordable housing, and urged political leaders to make housing more of a priority.

Other members of the class shared tips with one another on how to navigate the complicated bureaucracy of housing waitlists – one student said she was told she'll have to wait seven years.

But learning and talking about the issues was a start, even if the students remained skeptical that politicians would show the political courage needed to make a real difference.

"It gives more power," said one student as the class wrapped up.

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