The 2023 #Unignorable Tower

Unignorable-Tower-2023-Featured-Image
The Unignorable Tower 2023

It's more than just roofs over peoples heads...

Remember the iconic #Unignorable Tower from 2019? Well, it’s back in 2023 and has reached dizzying new heights. This isn’t a cause for celebration. This towering symbol of poverty and homelessness in the Greater Toronto Area has grown, and reflects a deepening crisis. We need more housing, lots more housing, but must remember that empty housing and roofs over heads alone doesn’t entirely solve encampments, shelters and the poverty on our streets. This issue isn’t just about slapping a roof over heads – it’s about building homes. The scale of Toronto’s housing need was perfectly illustrated in 2019, today we are going to take a deep dive into the 2023 #UnignorableTower: the Furniture Bank edition.

Table of Contents

What was the 2019 #Unignorable Tower?

In 2019 the United Way partnered with KPMB Architects, Norm Li Studio and TAXI KPMB Architects, to illustrate what poverty looks like in Toronto. They created The Unignorable Tower. The goal of the project was to bring attention to the size and scale of poverty in Toronto by contrasting a tower big enough to house the 116,000+ individuals and families in need with the Toronto skyline. The spectrum of poverty is broad from shelters to social housing it affects a significant portion of our community. These 116,000 individuals and families from Peel, Toronto and York Region are struggling to put a roof over their heads.  As part of their annual campaign, the United Way used augmented reality to show viewers what the Unignorable Tower would look like standing beside the CN Tower.

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The Growth of an Unsettling Monument 

Fast forward to 2023, this phantom tower would have grown by an alarming 54 floors. With 129,394 individuals now represented, this tower is a loud, unignorable scream for change. Across the GTA the lack of both housing that is affordable (and available), overcrowded shelters, and growing encampments shows the issues the United Way was seeking to end have only grown.

#Unignorable
Tenant Types
2023
Estimate
Source
York Region Housing Wait List5,000York Region Website
Peel Region Housing Wait List28,227The Pointer Article
Toronto Housing Wait List84,749City of Toronto Open Data
Toronto Shelter Capacity10,418City of Toronto Open Data Reports
Encampments Size1000- 2000Maytree Research
2023 TOTALS129,394 people 
  • 2019: Over 116,000 individuals and families struggling for shelter
  • 2023: A whopping 129,394 people in encampments, shelters, and housing wait lists

So, what’s going wrong here? Let’s peel back the layers and understand why this tower has grown instead of shrinking.

Understanding the Housing Continuum

The Housing Continuum

The housing continuum is a concept that describes the range of housing options available to individuals and families, from emergency shelters to homeownership. It recognizes that people’s housing needs change over time and that they may require different types of housing at different points in their lives. The continuum includes emergency shelters, transitional housing, supportive housing, affordable rental housing, and homeownership. Each type of housing serves a different purpose and meets different needs.  

Emergency shelters provide short-term accommodation for people experiencing homelessness. They are designed to meet the immediate needs of individuals and families in crisis, providing a safe and secure place to sleep, eat, and access basic services. Transitional housing is a step up from emergency shelters and provides longer-term accommodation for people who are working towards stable housing. It typically includes support services to help individuals and families address the issues that led to their homelessness and to build the skills and resources they need to maintain stable housing.

Supportive housing is designed for people with complex needs, such as mental illness, addiction, or physical disabilities. It provides a combination of affordable housing and support services, such as counselling, case management, and healthcare, to help individuals live independently and improve their quality of life. 

Market Rental Housing – Affordable rental housing is housing that is affordable to people with low to moderate incomes. It includes social housing, non-profit housing, and privately owned rental housing that is subsidized by government programs.

Homeownership is the ultimate goal for many people, providing stability, security, and a sense of belonging. However, it is not always accessible or affordable for everyone. The housing continuum recognizes that homeownership is just one part of a larger system of housing options, and that everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to call home, regardless of their income or background.

Housing first, furnishings second

More than just roofs over heads

Many governments approaches to addressing homelessness often stops at providing shelter. However, is that all there is to it? Absolutely not! We need to rethink our strategy – it’s not just about roofs over heads, but creating and establishing homes. It’s about creating spaces that provide not just shelter, but comfort, safety, and dignity. 

That’s where the Housing First model and furniture banks come in. Housing First is a proven approach that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness. But housing is just the first step. Next, we need to furnish these homes to make them truly livable. Furniture banks play a crucial role here, helping transition individuals from homelessness to furnished homes, significantly improving their quality of life and housing stability.  

Unlike traditional approaches to homelessness that require individuals to meet certain criteria or complete certain programs before being eligible for housing, the Housing First approach recognizes that people are more likely to succeed in addressing other challenges in their lives when they have a stable place to call home. This approach is based on the belief that housing is a basic human right and that everyone deserves a safe and secure place to live, regardless of their circumstances or background.

Ensuring all housing is furnished

Furniture poverty refers to the lack of essential furniture items in a household, such as a bed, a sofa, or a dining table. It is a growing issue in many countries, including the USA, U.K., and Canada where a significant number of people struggle to afford basic furniture and home goods. This problem can have a severe impact on people’s lives, affecting their physical and mental health, as well as their social and economic well-being. For example, not having a proper bed can lead to sleep deprivation, which can cause a range of health problems, including depression, anxiety, and obesity. Furniture poverty is often linked to poverty in general, as people who are struggling to make ends meet may prioritize other expenses, such as rent and bills, over buying furniture. It can also be a result of sudden life changes, such as a divorce, a job loss, or a move to a new home. 

The #UNIGNORABLE Furnished Apartment

Empty housing is still homelessness

Inside the original 2019 tower, it was assumed 1-bedroom units with an average unit size of 700ft. That would include a living room, full kitchen, dining/breakfast room, full bath, a bedroom and utilities but no home furnishings.
Essential Furnishing to create a home

  • Bed, bedding and mattress
  • Table and chairs
  • Sofa and/or arm chairs
  • Wardrobe/drawers/storage
  • Washing machine
  • Refrigerator and freezer
  • Oven
  • TV / Basic computing access
  • Kitchen Items
  • Small items

After the miracle of a roof over their heads, everyone in the #UNIGNORABLE Tower needs to grapple with the next challenge—furnishing and equipping the space to work as a home.

The cost of furnishing a one-bedroom apartment can vary significantly depending on factors such as your personal preferences, the quality of furniture, and where you purchase the items. Typically, furnishing a one-bedroom apartment costs vary from $3,500 to $9,500 including transport. Here’s a rough breakdown of the costs for essential furniture items:

  • Mattress: $500 to $1,200+
  • Bed frame: $90 to $500+
  • Dresser: $200 to $500+
  • Nightstand: $100 to $300+
  • Sofa: Varies widely, but expect to spend at least a few hundred dollars
  • Dining set: Varies widely, but expect to spend at least a few hundred dollars
  • TV stand or entertainment center: Varies, but expect to spend at least $100
  • Desk: Varies, but expect to spend at least $100
  • Housewares: Once you’ve got the big pieces figured out, this includes things like cooking utensils, pots, pans, dishes, pillows, bedding, lamps, towels, bathmats, soap dispensers, cleaning supplies, décor – basically everything you need in a functioning home. Again, the shopping list will vary greatly from person to person, apartment to apartment. However, assuming you buy the cheapest necessities on the market across the board, you can still expect to spend over $1,000 on housewares if you are starting with nothing.
  • Transport: Furnishings do not just appear – and a tenant should assume a minimum of $500 of transport related costs for these items.

Doing the math with this information the 2023 #UNIGNORABLE Furnished Tower would need nearly 4 million items of furnishings and housewares to outfit!(Our experience at Furniture Bank has been 30 items on average of furnishings and houseware items) and need financial resources exceeding $400 million if all these items needed to be purchased.

Citations:
[1] https://www.3menmovers.com/how-much-it-really-costs-to-furnish-your-first-apartment/
[2] https://furnishr.com/blog/cost-furnishing-apartment/
[3] https://www.furniturebank.org/how-much-does-it-cost-to-furnish-an-apartment/
[4] https://www.apartmentguide.com/blog/cost-to-furnish-an-apartment/
[5] https://www.phillyaptrentals.com/blog/how-much-does-it-cost-to-furnish-an-apartment/
[6] https://www.common.com/blog/2021/03/how-much-does-it-cost-to-furnish-an-apartment/

A Model for Filling the Tower:

The Rapid Homing Model

In April 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, Furniture Bank played a transformative role in addressing homelessness and furniture poverty through our innovative Rapid Homing Solutions as part of the Rapid Rehousing Initiative.  Together with Toronto Community Housing and Toronto Employment and Social Services, we provided not only housing but also furnished homes, bringing dignity and stability to those transitioning from homelessness. Our unique approach combines collaboration, long-term solutions, and efficient coordination to maximize the impact of our efforts.

Since 2020, Furniture Bank has furnished 1,555 housing units, providing furnished homes as a starting point for those emerging from homelessness. Our partnerships with Toronto Community Housing and Toronto Employment and Social Services have streamlined the process, ensuring that those in need receive a well-coordinated, comprehensive support system.
In addition to providing furniture, we responded to an acute need for additional homegood supplies and created standardized packages that include essential household items such as cookware, dishes, utensils, personal hygiene products, and cleaning supplies—complete homing solutions for empty housing. These packages not only help individuals and families settle into their new homes but also foster a sense of belonging and well-being.

In addition to providing furniture, we responded to an acute need for additional homegood supplies and created standardized packages that include essential household items such as cookware, dishes, utensils, personal hygiene products, and cleaning supplies—complete homing solutions for empty housing. These packages not only help individuals and families settle into their new homes but also foster a sense of belonging and well-being.

Regardless of who pays for the housing, as we ascend the #Unignorable Tower, the innovative Homing Model of Furniture Bank can support the real goal of giving everyone a place to call home.

“Furniture Bank is not simply about moving furniture into vacant homes. It’s about transforming spaces into homes, a sanctuary for families. It’s about restoring dignity and normalcy to vulnerable people.”

This transformative process is brought to life by the Homing Model in multiple ways:

  1. Efficiency: Furniture Bank’s approach is streamlined and rapid, ensuring that the voids in the Tower are filled with functional, attractive furnishings as housing space is created.
  2. Affordability: By sourcing pre-loved furniture from generous donors, they make furnishing affordable for every floor in the tower, limiting costs to items that cannot be sourced from donated items.
  3. Sustainability: This model is environmentally responsible, reducing waste by giving a second life to good-quality furniture
  4. Empowerment: Furniture Bank gives residents the chance to personally select their furnishings, fostering a sense of ownership and belonging creating a space that they can call home. It’s more than just roofs over heads—it’s about creating homes, affirming dignity, and igniting hope.
Homing Solutions by Furniture Bank

The #UNIGNORABLE Apartment

The Unignorable Tower was purely a way to visualize the problem. But what about taking into consideration the elements a real building would have, like hallways or elevators?  Its size was calculated on the basis of exactly 129,394 1-bedroom units with an average unit size of 700ft. That would include a living room, full kitchen, dining/breakfast room, full bath, a bedroom and utilities but no home furnishings. This is the amount of living accommodations needed to house those individuals currently struggling to provide housing for themselves.

With a building footprint of approximately 410 feet by 410 feet, each floor contains 240 individual apartment units. To accommodate the waiting list of 129,394 people looking for social housing, this building is theoretically equipped with a total of 539 storeys. This brings the tower’s total height to 1649 metres – near equal to 3 CN TOWERS in height!

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