Image description: Black and white picture of sign from an OCAP protest. Both signs depict simple drawings of houses and feature the slogan SHELTER NOW

Toronto City Council is preparing to remove hundreds of homeless shelter beds from George Street in the downtown east. This is part of a drive to dismantle the shelter system in the central area and drive the homeless out to suburban locations. Without providing an adequate service network and access to transit, this plan would impose hardship and danger on homeless people. However, it’s far from certain that it’s even possible for the City to do this. The 124 bed Hope Shelter at College and McCaul closed in April and no replacement facility has been found to date. The risk is that the City will proceed with the closing down of the shelters on George Street without being able to provide any kind of viable alternative.

As this exercise in social cleansing is being prepared, the shelter system is already terribly overcrowded. The City bureaucrats and the politicians they answer to continue to shamefully disregard the avowed policy of keeping shelters at a maximum occupancy level of 90%. If we take the night of Friday, October 16, the City’s official ‘Daily Shelter Census’ admits to an overall occupancy level of 95%, with the family shelters at 100%, the co-ed shelters at 94%, the men’s at 97%, the women’s at 98% and the youth shelters also at 98%.

As appalling as this picture is, it fails to capture the true extent of the overcrowding homeless people are experiencing. A look at some of the major shelters in the City on that same night shows a system in crisis that is failing to respect the dignity or protect the health and safety of homeless people.

To look first at several of the men’s shelters, we have Seaton House with all the 240 beds in its hostel program occupied. Moreover, five emergency ‘flex beds’ had been put down and six men were waiting for a place to sleep. Maxwell Meighen, at Queen and Sherbourne, had all its 270 beds full, with 10 flex beds laid down in common areas. Close by, Gateway’s had all its 108 beds in use with 10 flex beds utilized. Na-me-res had 67 of its 69 beds in use.

To take the women’s shelters, Evangeline had all 90 beds in use. Florence Booth had 59 out of 60 beds in use. Women’s Res reported 102 of its 103 beds full but with flex beds in use. Street Haven had 45 of its 46 beds full but with 4 flex beds called into service.

The youth shelters show Covenant House, Eva’s Place, Eva’s Satellite, Horizens and Kennedy House taking in 225 with one bed left vacant. Among the mixed facilities, Heyworth House, Caledonia and Homes First Scarborough show 199 staying in them with 2 beds to spare.

As this shocking situation was unfolding, fourteen people sat in the Peter Street Referral Centre hoping that they might get a bed. This indicates a system that is operating at such a high level of occupancy that there are times when no beds are available, even for those who have decided that they have no choice but to endure appalling conditions of overcrowding. People are clearly being put on the streets and denied the right to shelter from the elements.

November 3, at 12.30 PM, OCAP will be going back to City Hall to confront the session of Council at which the so called ‘George Street Revitalization’ will be on the agenda and the abandonment of the homeless taken to a new depth. We demand that this measure be put on hold until decent and adequate facilities, located in the same area of the City, are secured. We also demand that the lethal and degrading conditions in the shelters be addressed and the 90% occupancy policy be put into effect. We are calling on people across Toronto to come out join us on that day and support out struggle for the human right to shelter.