Wednesday, September 27 | 10am | 129 Peter Street
(One block south of Queen and east of Spadina)
On Tuesday last week, the ongoing crisis of insufficient emergency shelter space for Toronto’s growing homeless population took a dangerous turn. The city-run Peter Street Referral Centre, a place of last-resort that tries to find shelter beds for homeless people, shut its doors at night even as people kept coming for help. On any given night up to 50 people are forced to spend the night in chairs and on the bare floors at the Centre, subsisting on cookies and juice, because shelters are overwhelmed and staff aren’t able to find them a bed. Last Tuesday, however, not only were there no beds to refer people to, there was no physical space left to let people into the building.
The situation at the Peter Street Referral Centre is reflective of the gross lack of shelter space for the city’s burgeoning homeless population; a fact that is also evidenced by the unprecedented demand for beds this summer, a season where sleeping rough doesn’t always equal death. The official nightly occupancy figures released by the City paint a bleak picture but actually understate the reality. The system is overwhelmed and at the point of breakdown. Even the two 24/7 drop-ins for women have been over-capacity and the location on Adelaide often has had to turn women away. With the shelters in this state and the cold weather looming ever close, it’s apparent that even the option of disgracefully cramming people into substandard out of the colds, warming centres and drop ins will fail to hold up under the strain.
Politicians and bureaucrats can no longer look away and underplay the problem. A system that has been horribly crowded and grossly inadequate is at the point of collapse. Shelter space must be opened. This Wednesday, advocates and people on the front lines will gather at the Referral Centre to speak to the urgency and enormity of the shelter crisis and demand action by City Hall. At least 1000 new shelter beds must be opened to meet the current demand, and in the interim, facilities like gymnasiums and the armories that meet basic shelter standards must be opened up to provide immediate respite to the homeless.