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Crowe, Cathy

Cathy Crowe

Distinguished Visiting Practitioner
EducationHonorary x 5: Victoria, McMaster, Ottawa, York (Can.), Windsor
Phone416-979-5000 x 553282


Cathy Crowe is a Street Nurse in Toronto. She prefers to be called a Street Nurse – a term coined about 20 years ago by a homeless man at the corner of Sherbourne and Dundas in downtown Toronto.  She points out that at that time there were only 4 or 5 street nurses in Toronto, perhaps even Canada, compared to probably 100 now, from Victoria to Halifax.  That, in itself, makes a powerful statement about the extent of homelessness.  She has worked in the area of homelessness since 1988.

Cathy obtained her diploma in nursing from Toronto General Hospital in 1972, her Bachelor of Applied Arts in Nursing from Ryerson in 1985, and her Masters of Education (Sociology) from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in 1992.

Cathy follows the pulse of health issues affecting homeless people including shelter conditions and inadequate housing, the return of tuberculosis and even bedbugs.  Along with remarkable colleagues, homeless activists and friends she has fostered numerous coalitions and advocacy initiatives.

In 1998 she co-founded the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) which declared homelessness a National Disaster. The disaster campaign is a three level campaign targeting federal, provincial and municipal solutions to the homeless disaster and housing crisis.  Its signature 1% slogan refers to the demand that all levels of government commit an additional 1% of their budgets to affordable housing.

Cathy is a frequent commentator and writer on issues related to homelessness. She has taught a course at Ryerson called Homelessness in Canadian Society. A documentary film on her work titled ‘Street Nurse’, directed by Emmy and Gemini winner Shelley Saywell, aired on the Women’s channel in the fall of 2002.

Cathy has received a number of honours. In June 2001 she received an Honorary Doctor of Science in Nursing from the University of Victoria in British Columbia. In the fall of 2003, Cathy received an International Human Rights Award in Nursing in Amsterdam from the International Centre for Nursing Ethics. In June, 2005 she received an Honorary Doctor of Laws from McMaster University in Hamilton; in 2008 she received an Honorary Doctorate of the University from the University of Ottawa; in June 2010, an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from York University (Canada); and in June 2015, an Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Windsor.

From 2004-2009 she was the recipient of the Atkinson Charitable Foundation’s Economic Justice Award and worked both locally and nationally on issues related to homelessness.  During her fellowship she authored Dying for a Home: Homeless Activists Speak Out (Between the Lines, 2007).

Cathy is currently the voluntary Executive Director of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee. She has also been the Executive Producer of Home Safe Calgary and Home Safe Toronto, a national documentary film and community development project on homeless families and children, with filmmaker Laura Sky.

Ryerson University appointed Cathy Crowe Distinguished Visiting Practitioner in 2013.

On 30 June 2017, His Excellency, the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada named Cathy Crowe a Member of the Order of Canada. The investiture took place on 24 January 2018 in Ottawa.  Hear interview with Ryerson Today (external link) .


  • A Knapsack Full of Dreams: Memoirs of a Street Nurse. Victoria, BC: Friesen Press, 2019.
  • Dying for a Home: Homeless Activists Speak Out (with Nancy Baker, Brian Boyd, Bonnie and Kerre Briggs, Kevin Clarke, The Colonel, Dri, James Kagoshima, Marty Lang, and Melvin Tipping).  Toronto: Between the Lines Publishers, 2007. 

Chapters, Articles and Reports

  • “Foreword.” In Poverty in Canada: Implications for Health and Quality of Life, 3rd ed. by Dennis Raphael, 4.  Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press, 2020.
  • Housing Should Be a Human Right – and So Should Shelter (external link) .”  IMFG (Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance), University of Toronto, October 2018.
  • “Fresh Air: The Fight Against TB.” In The Ward: The Life and Loss of Toronto's First Immigrant Neighbourhood, eds. John Lorinc, Michael McClelland, Ellen Scheinberg and Tatum Taylor, 56-59.  Toronto:  Coach House Books, 2015.
  • Justice and Injustice: Incarceration and Homelessness in Toronto. Report for the  Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, 24 April 2006

In the Media