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Cathy Crowe launches Social Justice Walking Tour

By Ramna Shahzad

Cathy Crowe

Street nurse and visiting instructor Cathy Crowe gives a talk about affordable housing at the YWCA Toronto centre.

As Cathy Crowe, distinguished visiting practitioner at Ryerson University, speaks to students about social justice issues like affordable housing, homelessness and Canada's social programs, it sounds like a typical class. The students discuss issues, ask questions and take notes as they would in any lecture hall, but this talk takes place outside, as the students and professor walk around the city on a chilly winter morning.

Crowe is a long-time Toronto street nurse and dedicated social justice advocate makes the streets of Toronto her classroom.

“I think the walks are effective at putting the spotlight on issues that are not that easily viewable or understood by the average person, like sleeping conditions in a shelter or issues around finding food,” says Crowe, a 1985 Nursing graduate who is also an Alumni Achievement Award winner.

Crowe decided on this approach when students from nursing, journalism, urban planning and other disciplines approached her with questions about poverty, homelessness and health. She felt that the students’ queries were only answerable by demonstration.

The first walk took place on Nov. 22 on National Housing Day. The focus was affordable housing in Toronto and related issues. The first stop was Ryerson’s Library and Archives to see and discuss the Jack Layton Collection featuring newspaper clippings, audio clips and personally annotated books donated by his wife, Olivia Chow, to Ryerson. The book collection includes Crowe’s book, “Dying for a Home.” Crowe worked closely with Layton for decades, at city hall and at the waterfront homeless encampment called Tent City. At the archives, the group discussed Layton’s political contribution to housing, particularly his work on raising the issue of homelessness and housing in all levels of government.

Umbareen Qureshi, a fourth-year Nursing student, says the walk is a better educational tool than sitting in a classroom. “It lets you see things in Toronto that you haven’t been exposed to before.”

Other points along the walk included the Toronto Homeless Memorial at the Church of the Holy Trinity, behind the Eaton Centre to discuss poverty, hunger, homelessness and housing. The group also toured a YWCA Toronto building, which provides affordable housing for women in need. One of the final stops was the Jack Layton statue on the waterfront where Crowe spoke about how students can become involved in political change and have their voices heard by community leaders.

“I will tailor my walks based on a group interest,” says Crowe, who is teaching in the Faculty of Arts. For these Ryerson nursing and politics students, Crowe focused on the concept of community and the many ways students can make a change in society.

Fourth-year Nursing student Prabhjit Chane says she likes the hands-on learning experience. “I reflect upon it, think about it later and combine it with my goal in nursing,” she says.

The walk ended with the group heading to a Toronto National Housing Day rally at Yonge-Dundas Square where a crowd gathered with posters and signs about affordable housing.

To organize a walk, which lasts about three hours, a group of at least five people may contact Crowe at