The City of Toronto is scrambling to provide shelter for the homeless, one of the most vulnerable groups of people during cold winter months.
City councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Gord Perks are urging the city to declare homelessness a crisis. Doing so would unlock funding from both the provincial and federal government.
@TOPublicHealth recorded 145 deaths of individuals experiencing homelessness, from Jan 2017 to June 2018. It's time to declare homelessness a crisis and bring all available emergency housing resources to bear, to preserve sanctity of human life and prevent further suffering.
— Kristyn Wong-Tam (@kristynwongtam) January 21, 2019
Just a few weeks into January, Toronto has already seen the death of four members of the homeless community. With shelters operating at or over capacity, and no immediate solution for the long term, the city could benefit greatly from extra funding according to Wong-Tam and Perks.
Mayor John Tory spoke to Matt Galloway on CBC’s Metro Morning on Monday. He said the root of the homelessness problem is about mental health and affordable housing.
“My main concern has been that there’s a place for them to go while we work on mental health and affordable housing,” Tory said.
A few new respite centers have opened across the city. The Davenport Road Women’s Shelter opened its doors on Monday and will be able to hold 60 women at a time to start, and hopes to up its intake to 80 or 90 women at a time.
James Facciolo, housing and shelter manager at The Homes First Society Organization is celebrating the opening of the newest respite, but says many shelters and respites are still operating at maximum capacity.
“We don’t turn anyone away,” says Facciolo, “it may not be ideal but if you have a desire to be out of the cold we manage.” He adds that it isn’t uncommon to see people warming in the lobbies of shelters.
When asked if the city is doing its part in supporting housing issues Facciolo has a lot to say.
“The city is working hard in responding to this crisis.” he says, “winter comes fast but we were ready for it.”
Facciolo notes that the opening of new respites is helping, but a long term solution is necessary to solve this issue.
“This solution can’t exist on it’s own,” Facciolo points out, “there needs to be a back end plan for housing, otherwise every year the need for beds is going to rise.”
Homelessness and shelter advocates met with City Council today to ask the City to declare homelessness in Toronto a state of humanitarian crisis. Kristyn Wong-Tam has begun circulating a petition on twitter, which currently has around 600 signatures.