Social justice pioneer remembered in Toronto

Bill Bosworth believed that homelessness was the result of a lack of affordable housing. Photo: Lisa Oliveira/SHSC
Bill Bosworth believed that homelessness was the result of a lack of affordable housing. Photo: Lisa Oliveira/SHSC
Published August 31, 2011

Bill Bosworth was a proud Anglican and Torontonian who helped make decent and affordable housing a reality for thousands of city residents without a home.

On Aug. 24, Bosworth’s friends and colleagues gathered at Holy Trinity Church in downtown Toronto to remember his four decades of pioneering work as a crusader for social justice. Bosworth died from cardiac arrest on August 18. He was 63.

Bosworth proved that homelessness is not a hopeless, intractable challenge.

“Bill’s big idea was that homelessness was the result of a lack of affordable housing, and that ‘treating homelessness with hostels is like treating cancer with aspirin,’ ” wrote housing activist Joy Connelly, in a tribute to Bosworth published at Opening the Window, a blog on social housing.

In the 1970s, as an outreach worker for the Fred Victor Mission, a homeless shelter, Bosworth saw firsthand that giving a homeless person a hot meal and a warm bed for the night wasn’t enough to break them out of the cycle of poverty. He believed in empowering the poor by involving them in the planning and crafting of solutions to their own problems.

In 1983, Bosworth became the founding executive director of Homes First Society, Toronto’s first provider of alternative housing. One 77-unit building for low-income single people became the first-and largest-government-assisted transitional housing project of its kind in Canada.

Bosworth believed that social housing needed to be aesthetically pleasing. “Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you have to look poor,” said Connelly, quoting one of Bosworth’s oft-repeated sayings.

“Bill was a tough negotiator, always seeking the best interests of those who were underprivileged,” said Dean Peter Elliott, rector of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver and prolocutor of the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod. In a message on Facebook, Elliott called Bosworth’s commitment to social justice “a shining example of how faith can transform not just personal life but social institutions as well.” Elliott had known Bosworth since the 1970s, when they both went to the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.

After working at Homes First Society, Bosworth continued his advocacy for the homeless by working for Metro Housing Corporation, Toronto Community Housing, and most recently, the Social Housing Services Corporation (SHSC).

While at Toronto Community Housing, Bosworth was project manager for the Don Mount Court (Rivertowne) redevelopment in Toronto’s South Riverdale neighbourhood, Canada’s first public housing complex rebuilt as a mixed-income community.

Bosworth’s influence extended to countless housing activists who have, in online messages of condolence, written about how he inspired them. “I came to believe from him [Bosworth] that it was indeed possible for low-income people to make their impact on the shaping of government and social service policies that would affect their lives,” wrote Brad Lennon.

Elliott said he would remember Bosworth not just for his intelligence and compassion, but for his “joy in living, his humour, hobbies, practical skills, generosity and warm smile.” An avid outdoors person, Bosworth loved skiing, biking, fishing, hiking and travelling, said Elliott.

Bosworth is survived by his wife, Joan, and their children, Jenny and Steve.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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