The depression forms a vital element of the backdrop of this excellent story about a priest and his strange friendship with two prostitutes. It is of course against a background of general want and misery that Father Stephen Dowling meets the two prostitutes that he strikes up such a curious and confused friendship with, and throughout the novel the general poverty and want of the time is clearly established as the Father acquaints himself with areas of Toronto that are struck by poverty in ways that are described clearly by the author.
At the same time, perhaps we can see a deeper significance to the setting. The Great Depression, with the massive poverty and want that it brought to those that experienced it, was a period of history in which people had to face and confront harsh realities in their life. In the same way, Stephen Dowling has to confront his own mixed motives for befriending the two prostitutes. He spends most of the story trying to discern whether it was lust or divine love that led him to them. He has to confront his true self and his mixed emotions just like everybody else had to confront raw reality in the face of such poverty.