Women’s organizations and community members have rallied and released an Open Letter to the City of Toronto

Women’s organizations and community members have rallied and released an Open Letter to the City of Toronto demanding immediate action on violence against homeless women.

This Open Letter (to download this letter, click here, also see below) is signed by a wide range of community agencies, women’s organizations, violence against women shelters, and prominent individual community voices such as Jane Doe, Cathy Crowe, Min Sook Lee, Winnie Ng, and Laura Sky. Organizations include: Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, Ernestine's Women's Shelter, 416 Community Support for Women, Jessie’s - The June Callwood Centre for Young Women, Margaret’s Housing and Community Support Services, The Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC), Native Women’s Resource Centre Toronto, Nellie’s, No More Silence, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, The Redwood 'A Safe Haven for Women and Children Fleeing Abuse', Regent Park Community Health Centre, Sistering, South Riverdale Community Health Centre, Toronto Drop-In Network, Street Haven, Street Health, Toronto Rape Crisis Centre /Multicultural Women Against Rape, Women’s Habitat of Etobicoke.

*To add your voice to this Open Letter, contact: dtewomen@gmail.com

Many women in our city are forced to sleep outside. Shelters are over- crowded and some nights women can’t even find a bed. Homeless women are exposed to high levels of violence; based on a study by Street Health and Sistering, 37% have been physically assaulted in the past year, 21% have been sexually assaulted one or more times in the past year.

On Sunday, September 22, 2013 a woman slept in a well-lit area near Dundas
& Sherbourne. That night the woman was sexually assaulted two different times. The incident(s) would have been unreported if not noticed by staff of a local agency on the video surveillance tape of the organization.

Police posted photos on their website (http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/newsreleases/pdfs/27649.pdf), however failed to hold a press conference or inform women and service providers in the community about this incident. Making the incident known to the public would assist in alerting women in the community about the risk, identifying the men to the public, and raising urgent awareness about the unsafe conditions that homeless women face. Such media and public responses were seen in the past in cases of assaults occurring near local universities and in parks.

The lack of attention and care towards this case of sexual violence reflects the stigma and discrimination faced by many women in our community. This reminds us of past injustices where women were put at risk
by similar inaction, such as the disappearance of women from Vancouver’s
Downtown Eastside.

This incident, and many others, shows the true nature of the crisis within
the shelter system and lack of safe space and housing for women in the City of Toronto. Women from the Community have been at the forefront of
responding to this and demanding immediate action and accountability. Join us today as we speak out and demand new shelter space for women, a 24-hour low threshold drop-in centre, and affordable, safe and supportive housing for all!

Contact: 416-925-6939 or dtewomen@gmail.com

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November 25th, 2013
To Download This Letter, Click Here

To The City of Toronto, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration and to the Community Development and Recreation Committee: We, the undersigned, represent many concerned women’s agencies, community organizations and advocates in the City that work with women every day.

We are writing on this 25th day of November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, to demand that the City take immediate action to address the shelter crisis and the tremendous violence experienced by homeless women every night.

As you are well aware, City Council voted to bring shelter occupancy rates down to 90% more than 7 months ago, but have failed to keep their promise. Instead of taking immediate and decisive action, the city has thrown some mats on floors of shelters and called them ‘flex beds’. Capacity for all shelters remains well over 90% in all sectors and there has been no additional shelter opened nor have the overcrowding or worsening conditions been addressed in any meaningful way.

For women, the state of the city’s shelters is particularly devastating. Women’s shelters are operating at 97% capacity or higher every night, even with the use of ‘flex beds’. On most days, despite what the City keeps arguing, there are no beds available for women and women are told to go to Peter Street to wait for a bed that may not even materialize.

Homeless and marginally housed women are subjected to violence every day, are unable to access emergency shelters or violence against women (VAW) shelters and are often left on the street without options. Many are forced to secure temporary shelter in settings that are unsafe, insecure and traumatizing. Just recently, on September 22nd between 4 AM and 5 AM, a homeless woman was sleeping on some steps in the Dundas Street East/ Sherbourne Street area. She was sexually assaulted by two different men that same night (see the police bulletin here: http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/newsreleases/pdfs/27649.pdf).

The crisis in the shelter system is continuing to worsen with each passing day. It is certain that the colder weather will only make this situation even more desperate. It is also certain that without action more women will be victims of assault and violence and unable to access help or safety because of this crisis.

In response to this crisis, we are demanding that the City:

-Replace Flex Beds with Real Beds: Mats on the floor of already overcrowded shelters should NOT be considered an option. Flex Beds creates overcrowding and unlivable conditions. Replace Flex Beds with REAL beds in adequate new facilities.

-Open an adequate new women’s shelter IMMEDIATELY. The City of Toronto needs to open a new women’s facility (or facilities) with 50 real beds. The number of beds must meet the demand – anything short of this will continue to perpetuate the crisis. (We want to also underscore that there is need for shelters in all other sectors - men, youth, co-ed – we demand that these capacity issues also be addressed).

-Ensure that the shelters are located in accessible spaces for women and trans folks who are most marginalized.

-Immediately open 24 hour or after hour safe space in the downtown east and west ends, especially accessible to women in these areas. This issue has been referred over to further reports and consultations, but we need action now.

-Open shelters that are harm reduction and pet friendly

-Address the overall loss of approximately 200 shelter beds from the system in the last 10 years.

It is especially distressing that on this internationally recognized day for the elimination of violence against women, women in this City cannot access safe shelter and are being assaulted on the streets at night. This cannot continue and we demand action now.

We look forward to your prompt response.

Signed,

Organizations:

Assaulted Women's and Children's Counsellor/Advocate Program at George Brown College
Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic
Ernestine's Women's Shelter
416 Community Support for Women
Jessie’s, The June Callwood Centre for Young Women
Margaret’s Housing and Community Support Services
The Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC)
Native Women’s Resource Centre Toronto
Nellie’s
No More Silence
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
The Redwood | A safe haven for women and children fleeing abuse
Regent Park Community Health Centre
Sanctuary
Sistering
South Riverdale Community Health Centre
Street Haven
Street Health
Toronto Drop-In Network
Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape
Women’s Habitat of Etobicoke

Individuals and Supporters:

Cathy Crowe, Long-time Street Nurse, co-founder Toronto Disaster Relief Committee
Rebecca Cunningham Andre, Sanctuary Toronto
Jane Doe
Elaine Francis, M.S.W., R.S.W., LL.B.
Clare Hacksel
L. King
Aimee Le Lagadec, Housing Support Worker, Eva’s Place
Christine Massey
Min Sook Lee, Toronto Filmmaker
Katherine Novak, Formerly Homeless Woman
Winnie Ng, CAW Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy, Ryerson University
Laura Sky, Filmmaker