The City’s winter plan for emergency shelter will leave vulnerable people scrambling to find space indoors. Hundreds of people will endure the inhumane conditions within respite centres or line up outside each night in hopes of getting a spot at a volunteer led program. Many will be left outside in the cold. Shelters and respite sites were full all summer and the City’s plan to open additional winter spaces will not be enough to meet the growing need.
Last week, the City of Toronto released its plan to open 485 spaces in the coming weeks, including 200 beds for refugees/asylum claimants in North York. The plan provides 94 more spaces than last year and 85 of them are transitional housing so they won’t be available for emergency shelter. This means there will only be the addition of 9 emergency spaces this winter. This is unacceptable. The homeless crisis is intensifying daily. Shelters, respite centres, and drop-ins are full, with no real relief in site.
This summer we witnessed an unprecedented demand for shelter. Even a chair or mat on the floor in an overcrowded respite site was hard to come by. The Peter Street Referral Centre, the City’s last resort for a warm place to stay, began turning people away. With rising rents and stagnant incomes the need for shelter is growing exponentially.
In the past, shelter occupancy rates were based on the number of beds available. The City is now counting cots, mats on the floor and even chairs as shelter spaces, and the system is still over capacity. Earlier shelter standards required 2.5 feet between beds. People are now crammed into respite sites, sleeping inches apart from each other without access to privacy, adequate bathroom facilities, or rest.
In respite sites people with chronic illnesses and older adults struggle to climb onto cots and mats on the floor. Outbreaks of lice, scabies, bed bugs and infectious diseases are never ending and nearly impossible to contain. The poor conditions, extreme stress and chronic exhaustion people must endure are causing illness. This is an emergency. The shelter system is in crisis.
Last week seven deaths were added to the Toronto Homeless Memorial, and the body of Richard Fontaine was found near Queen’s Quay, where he lived outside. Homeless people are dying prematurely and this year’s inadequate winter shelter plan will contribute to more deaths.
The City must declare an emergency, open 2000 new shelter beds now, and immediately break ground on new rent-geared-to-income housing. In a city with so much wealth it is disgraceful to have people dying on the streets for lack of basic shelter and housing. The 2000 new shelter beds would bring the shelter system to its City Council mandated goal of 90% occupancy, a goal it has never met. With shelters at above 90% occupancy, it becomes nearly impossible to find a bed for anyone.
On November 11th as a cold snap loomed, sustained community pressure pushed the city to open 30 cots at a Metro Hall warming centre. While cold makes things worse, the crisis exists at -10 degrees, -5 degrees, and at 10 degrees. This winter, OCAP will fight for 2000 safe, secure shelter spaces. We will fight for deeply affordable social housing. We will fight for and with the people of this city; and, we will fight to win.