City council has voted against a motion to declare Toronto’s homelessness and housing crisis a state of emergency.
Mayor John Tory and a majority of city council voted against the motion on Jan. 30. It would have declared homelessness “a human rights disaster akin to a municipal emergency.” The final vote was 18-7. A following motion to affirm housing as a human right also failed.
At the beginning of the meeting, several city councillors brought forward petitions, signed by hundreds of their constituents, to declare the emergency. Among the councillors presenting petitions were: Ward 13 Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, Ward 4 Coun. Gord Perks, Ward 10 Coun. Joe Cressy and Ward 11 Coun. Mike Layton.
The motion was first brought up at a press conference held at city hall Jan. 22 by councillors Wong-Tam and Perks, but was moved to the Jan. 30 meeting’s agenda.
At the beginning of the meeting, council and all attendees in the chambers rose for a moment of silence commemorating five Torontonians who died while homeless on the streets this year.
Perks and Wong-Tam then gave impassioned appeals to the council to pass the motion to declare a state of emergency and for all three levels of government to take action.
“We could decide here today to do something new. People are dying in the cold in laneways — it happens every week, it’s a predictable thing now,” Perks said.
With temperatures dipping to -15 C on Jan. 30 as Toronto experiences the effects of a polar vortex, the city’s shelters, respite sites and warming shelters are almost all at full capacity. All of the city’s shelters were at or over 87 per cent capacity the night of Jan. 30, with a total of 6,899 visitors to the city’s shelters, according to the city’s daily shelter occupancy data.
“We are looking at bringing on another nine or 10 shelters in the next two years,” said Paul Raftis, interim manager of the city’s shelter, support and housing administration, during the meeting.
“This is, in my mind, an emergency, a crisis, a disaster,” said Cressy, addressing city council. “As we scale up [shelters], the spaces are filled. Nobody can get out because we are not providing a pathway out. We need to end homelessness.”