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Toronto homelessness advocate says needs aren’t being met
The City of Toronto announced 485 new spaces for the homeless as part of its 2019-2020 winter services plan, but expert Cathy Crowe says the numbers are inadequate.
The city invited the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and the Shelter and Housing Justice Network for a private briefing ahead of the plan’s public release, to share some of its thoughts.
Crowe, who is Ryerson’s distinguished visiting practitioner and a homelessness advocate, said she indicated to the city that 2,000 additional shelter beds were needed and the 485 beds they plan to make available are insufficient.
The city claims to have a 94-space increase this year as the total rises to 899 from last winter’s 805. But Crowe calls that a “sham,” as the increase exclusively refers to respite spaces.
“We were actually close to 400 respite spaces shorter, so by saying, ‘we have this big increase’ they are really just getting caught up from last year,” she said in a phone interview.
Several shelters and overnight spaces are operating in unhealthy housing conditions with outbreaks of the flu, strep throat and gastrointestinal illnesses, according to Crowe.
“We are calling for the mayor to declare a state of emergency on homelessness so that fast, concrete action can be taken,” she said.
There are a total of 7,105 overnight shelter beds across the system, with 7,215 individuals in Toronto’s shelter system as of Nov. 4, according to the city’s news release.
The new services respond to increasing pressure for more affordable housing, as the city continues to experience unprecedented demand for emergency shelter, said the release.
During the private briefing, Crowe says she urged the city to keep accurate statistics and up-to-date information regarding housing availability and occupancy.
“We talked a lot about the fact that [the City of Toronto] continues to say its shelter capacity is at 93 per cent, when in fact it is between 98 to100 per cent,” said Crowe.
She said they arrive at this percentage by averaging in the numbers around hotel-based occupancy, which skews the data, and in reality the shelters are completely full.
Toronto’s 2019-2020 winter plan for people experiencing homelessness includes specialized services, more spaces and service locations.
The unveiling came as the city was placed under an Extreme Cold Weather Alert with record-breaking snowfall.
The plan includes a new centre in the area of Yonge Street and Finch Avenue for homeless refugees and asylum-seekers. That centre has a 200-space occupancy.
The city said this site is one of six new services for homeless people available through the winter services plan.
The plan will include the following services until April 2020.
- A 50-space, 24-hour respite site operated by St. Felix Centre at 25 Augusta Ave.
- 100 additional temporary winter beds at Seaton House, 339 George St.
- 50 additional temporary winter beds (male only) at 545 Lakeshore Blvd. operated by Homes First Society.
- 85 spaces for single adults in a hotel-based pre-housing program (split between two locations at the north and south ends of the city).