Open Letter to Mayor John Tory Regarding Toronto's Shelter Crisis

Image description: A chain link fence in the foreground has a banner hung on it saying "NO MORE HOMELESS DEATHS", while in the background a large red brick building has a banner hung from its roof reading "HOUSING NOW"

September 18, 2015

Mayor Tory,

You will doubtless remember the homeless deaths that happened in this City at the beginning of the year. At the time, promises were made to reduce the level of overcrowding but nothing of the kind has happened. If we look at the latest Daily Shelter Census, issued by the City, we see an (understated) overall occupancy figure of 95%, with the men’s system running at 96% and the women’s at 97%. We must presume there is simply no intention of complying with the 90% policy that Council has adopted.

However, as outrageous as this consideration is, we must also draw your attention to the related question of the threat of shelter removal from the central area of the City. The 124 bed Hope Shelter at College and McCaul closed in April and no replacement has been found yet. It is simply not credible to assert that this municipality is unable to obtain shelter space to replace the closed facility. The closing of the Hope Shelter is clearly part of a strategy to remove bed space from the central area of the City. The impending decision to proceed with the relocation of hundreds of spaces on George Street fits into this pattern. Services for the homeless are to be driven out the core area and relocated in parts of the City where peoples’ ability to access supports and even survive will be called into question. Bluntly, it is an agenda of social cleansing, obviously linked to the needs of upscale redevelopment.

We might note that, even suburban shelters are in a precarious situation as the impending closing of the Second Base Youth Shelter in Scarborough shows. Clearly, a de facto policy is at work to provide the lowest level of shelter provision possible, to respond to community action with the smallest of concessions and to offer assurances of long term improvement that are simply not implemented in practice. We must conclude that Committee recommendations and Council decisions are of no real value because senior staff have no intention of complying with instructions to improve homeless services and no political will exists to compel them to do so.

OCAP is sometimes accused of being unduly ‘confrontational’ but, in truth, we have made serious and ongoing attempts to dialogue with politicians and senior levels of the Administration and have only half hearted measures of redress and a string of empty promises to show for it. We must assume that the only way we can address this matter is to prove to you that the homeless and their allies will not be ignored and that they will act to ensure that the shame and disgrace of the abandonment of homeless people in this City will not be swept under the rug.

We will be coming to City Hall on September 21 to begin this process. We are not asking for a meeting but we will take this opportunity to inform you as to what our demands will be:

1.) Enforce the 90% occupancy policy and instruct staff to identify and implement the measures needed to do so.

2.) Replace the Hope Shelter with an equivalent facility the same area.

3.) Do not proceed with the George Street redevelopment until alternative spaces in the same area have been secured.

4.)Take such measures as may be necessary to ensure the Second Base Youth Shelter remains open.

Thank you for considering this matter. We are not asking for you to reply to this letter but, rather, await with considerable interest the practical steps you take by way of response.

-The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP)