Toronto Mayor John Tory recently announced that he’s making affordable housing a top priority. But he’ll have to reconcile this commitment with what one charity, Fred Victor, is saying is a 100 per cent increase in homelessness over the past two years.
“One of the things that is really unfortunate about living in a city like Toronto is that affordable housing is really hard to come by,” said Melody Li, the executive director for Homeless Connect Toronto.
In response to increasing demand, Homeless Connect Toronto held a one-stop shop at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) on Sunday. The event offered 75 free services, including housing resources, legal help and eye care, to help fill unmet needs in the community.
“We serve people who are at risk,” said Li. “We recognize that sometimes you might have the resources to pay for your rent but you might not have the resources to afford anything much more after that.”
In addition to directly experiencing homelessness, many people are just a paycheque away from becoming homeless, said Li.
“They might even be couchsurfing or staying with a friend or family member and those are things we are often not counting in our street needs assessments.”
The most recent city-wide census of people experiencing homelessness was done on April 26, 2018. The results of that street needs assessment (SNA) are expected to be released in November. The last SNA report was released in 2013.
According to Keith Hambly, from Fred Victor, there are several factors leading to increased homelessness in Toronto. Fred Victor, a local charity, quoted the 100 per cent spike figure earlier this month after combining city shelter counts with its own estimates on hidden homelessness.
“Rental costs continue to rise and social assistance rates and perhaps lower paying jobs are not keeping pace with private sector housing costs,” Hambly said. A long time ago, there were areas of Toronto where affordable housing options existed for people on assistance or living in poverty, he said.
“Areas like in Parkdale or the downtown east are feeling squeezed by condo development,” he said. “The loss of this inexpensive housing has a direct impact on availability and system capacity.”
Currently, there are 96,828 households on Toronto’s social housing waiting list, which is up from 88,115 at this time last year, nearly a 10 percentage point increase. The wait times for receiving social housing range from one to five years for a bachelor to 10 to 12 years for a three- or four-bedroom house, according to city statistics. The city recently offered a lottery to give away 75 affordable units.
In June, the city announced it will spend $10 million on four prefabricated temporary respite structures to help deal with the growing number of homeless in Toronto who will soon be dealing with colder weather.
Confirmed sites are on Fleet Street, Lakeshore Boulevard West, and King Street West, which is part of the parking lot at Lamport Stadium. The city is close to announcing a fourth.