[PHOTO: Marchers demand mayor John Tory declare the homelessness crisis in Toronto a state of emergency. (Shelter and Houing Justice Network, via: LINK)]
The Church of the Holy Trinity’s Toronto Homeless Memorial passed 1,000 names on January 14, following the death of Daniel Duncan the day before.
Community members gathered outside of the Anglican church in downtown Toronto to demand action from the city. Chief among those demands was for mayor John Tory to declare a state of emergency, allowing the homeless crisis to be allocated the same resources as would be available in the case of a natural disaster.
Cathy Crowe, the street nurse and social justice activist who spoke at the event, says she hopes the milestone will serve as motivation for the city to address this crisis.
“It’s a very stark reminder, a wakeup call for the city and the residents that what they’re seeing has deadly consequences. I think momentum and outrage is going to build,” Crowe says.
Crowe says more and more people have reached out to her following the vigil, committing to demanding action from their city councillor or MPP.
“What’s happening here is also happening in Peterborough, Kingston, and other communities, just on a smaller scale. But now people are watching this quite closely, and it’s only going to get worse,” Crowe says.
Once a state of emergency is declared, Crowe wants the city to establish more respite sites and warming centres, as well as pass the “1,000 beds proposal,” a measure that would add 1,000 new beds to Toronto’s shelter system. Tory’s council voted the proposal down in December.
She also suggested the city get the Red Cross involved:
“Episodically, over the last – say – 20 years, the Red Cross has sometimes been asked to help, and when they do, they know how to do this. Two or three winters ago they operated a warming centre in a school and it was a spic-and-span, amazing operation.”
Patricia Mueller, CEO of Homes First and member of the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness steering committee, says that 1,000 beds may not be enough.
“Homelessness seems to be growing exponentially. For many, many years in the city of Toronto the number of homeless individuals hovered around 5,000, and right now we’re, I believe… At the last Street Needs assessment it was around 8,700, so I would wager we’re probably over 9,000, maybe inching up towards 10,000,” She says.
Mueller says that people who die because of homelessness are caught off guard by the cold, and the more suddenly the weather changes, the worse the problem is.
“I check the weather probably four or five times a day. If you’re homeless, you might not be checking the weather at all, so you have no sense that it’s going to drop down tonight… we don’t want what happened a few years ago when there was one winter where four people died.”
Mueller and the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness believe the way forward is not just to implement the 1,000 new beds, but also more deeply affordable supportive housing.
A petition posted on the Shelter and Housing Justice Network is being promoted by Crowe. Click HERE to read more about their hopes for the future of homelessness.
To see the current list of names of those lost to homelessness, visit the Church of the Holy Trinity’s digital memorial HERE.
UPDATE: Jan 23, 9:25 am. Changed featured image.