OPEN LETTER TO MAYOR TORY: CALL OFF THE HOMELESS SWEEPS

Dear Mayor John Tory,

The Parks, Forestry and Recreation department has said it will be dismantling homeless encampments in the Rosedale valley on January 7, 2020.

There is no justification for these sweeps in the midst of a deadly shortage of shelter space in the city. People are camped outside in the bitter cold because the housing crisis rages on unchecked and the City’s shelter system is overwhelmed. Conditions within these emergency centres are difficult and often unsafe because of chronic overcrowding, short-staffing and a general lack of necessary resources. The private market is such that even those able to access the housing allowance find it impossible to find a place to rent.

Forcibly dismantling homeless encampments – be they under the Gardiner or in the Rosedale valley – is nothing more than an attempt to make homelessness invisible rather than addressing the problem. In the absence of adequate shelter or housing, the encampments just rise up once again. Despite having seen this time and again, the administration continues to subject homeless people to the ritualized humiliation and hardship of being displaced and having their belongings confiscated, only to then be informed that the emergency system is full.

You must call off these brutal sweeps, starting with the one planned for January 7, and focus City resources on adding sufficient shelter spaces and building publicly owned rent-geared-to-income housing. That’s the only way to make sure no one has to resort to sleeping under bridges and in the ravines of this wealthy city. Our network will be mobilizing around the upcoming sweep and will challenge attempts at evicting people that your administration has effectively abandoned to the streets.

Sincerely,

Rafi Aaron, Interfaith Coalition to Fight Homelessness

Yogi Acharya and Cat Chhina, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

Greg Cook, Sanctuary Outreach

Cathy Crowe, Street Nurse

Bob Rose on behalf of the

Shelter and Housing Justice Network

Mayor Tory: Declare Homelessness An Emergency To Prevent More Deaths And Suffering

Shelter and Housing Justice Network started this petition to Mayor John Tory (Mayor, City of Toronto)

To sign the petition, visit the Change.org:  Petition Link

This past month there have been eight reported homeless deaths in the City of Toronto.

The City has failed to shelter the most vulnerable. All seven Respite Centres are full, the two 24-hour women’s drop-ins and the Out of the Cold program are over capacity on many nights. The Assessment and Referral Centre on Peter Street is unable to operate as a referral centre as there are insufficient beds in the system.

Instead, fifty people sleep in chairs there each night. They are the lucky ones. Hundreds upon hundreds of people are forced to sleep outside due to failed shelter and housing policies. They are in grave danger. Their precarious situation has been exacerbated by the onslaught of an early winter leaving them completely exposed and vulnerable.

A walk through the city confirms what front-line workers are telling us: there have never been this many people sleeping in our streets and parks before. The number of beds the City plans to bring on-line will not be sufficient to accommodate those in need. Furthermore, during an Extreme Cold Weather Alert there is only one Warming Centre that sleeps 50 people for the entire City.

In order to prevent more deaths and suffering, we request that you enact the City of Toronto Emergency Plan immediately.  

WHY THE CITY OF TORONTO EMERGENCY PLAN IS THE ONLY RESPONSE

The aim of the City of Toronto Emergency Plan is to provide the framework for extraordinary arrangements and measures that can be taken to protect the health, safety and welfare of the inhabitants of the City of Toronto. It would allow the Mayor to:

1. Make a formal statement declaring that homelessness and the social housing situation are an emergency necessitating immediate action.
2. Request help from the Federal and Provincial governments for funding and resources necessary to deal with this deadly crisis.
3. Establish an Emergency Task Force from relevant departments at the City, including Public Health; Shelter, Support and Housing Administration; Emergency Management; Real Estate; Parks, Forestry and Recreation; for the purpose of resolving issues related to the crisis.
4. Create a Building Team from all three levels of government that would identify vacant buildings owned by the City, Federal and Provincial governments that can be used to immediately shelter the hundreds who are homeless.
5. Redeploy staff from various City departments to implement the decisions of the
Emergency Task Force and to provide support at respite sites, warming centres, and overnight drop-ins.
6. Invite the Red Cross to assist with emergency respite and warming centre operations, as they did in the winter of 2017-2018.
7. Move the only Warming Centre that currently operates in a hallway at Metro Hall, to a more accessible and spacious site.
8. Create four to six additional Warming Centres throughout Toronto that would allow people to easily access them.
9. Improve the safety and health outcomes in all Respite Centres that have 100 or more people staying in them by reducing capacity by one third.
10. Fast track a 4th Sprung Structure.
11. Implement the recommendations of the Faulkner Inquest, including the distribution of survival equipment and supplies (sleeping bags, fire retardant blankets, safe heat sources) to people who are living outside. Tents must be added to this list. Fund additional outreach teams to distribute these items.
12. Impose a moratorium on evictions of people living in all public spaces, including parks, ravines, and encampments.
13. Impose a moratorium on the removal of all encampments.
14. Create an emergency rent supplement program to prioritize the housing of vulnerable people including seniors and those with disabilities.
15. Allow the Building Team to devise and implement a strategy for the creation of 2,000 permanent shelter beds.
16. Allow the Building Team to devise and implement a five-year strategy for the building of transitional, supportive and rent-geared-to-income (RGI) social housing.
17. Expropriate buildings, left unused and vacant by owners, for immediate conversion to RGI social housing such as single room dwellings or transitional housing.
18. Extend the timeframe of all emergency shelters and Respite Centres so they operate year-round.
19. Create one hundred beds to replace those lost when the Out of the Cold program shuts down in April.

We believe that homelessness needs to be declared as a state of emergency in the City of Toronto. We have witnessed homelessness increase in recent years and the municipal response has proved to be totally inadequate. Lives are at stake.

THE SHELTER AND HOUSING JUSTICE NETWORK

The Shelter and Housing Justice Network (SHJN) is an experienced group of frontline workers, health providers, faith groups, advocates, community leaders and organizations.

SHJN can be reached at:

SHJToronto@gmail.com

@SHJNetwork

Shelter and Housing Justice Network postcard action winter 2019-2020

This action is an effort to channel the sadness and stress of all service providers in Toronto who witness the struggles of individuals living without the dignity they deserve.

It is for service providers to have the opportunity to manifest the stress we feel. You might have the feeling that those whom we support should be given voice rather than us. This card is not doing that.

It rather chooses to recognize that those whom we support do enough politically by breathing in the struggle all the time and that it is rarely rewarding if not traumatic for them to tell their stories to politicians who even without such intent practice systemic erasure.

How does this action work?

– please sign one card and distribute the others in your network for signatures
– please collect all these signed cards again
– then, return them to SHJN asap
– if nothing has been arranged for the return and no information is on this website, please contact gregc@sanctuarytoronto.ca

SHJN will organise a delivery to Mayor John Tory in the new year that will be respectful of your voice.

‘Today we say enough’: New homelessness advocacy group calls for state of emergency as shelters near capacity

Advocates are demanding the city declare a state of emergency to provide more support for homeless people in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Homeless and housing advocates, health-care workers, shelter providers and other experts are warning of a growing homelessness problem in the city that they would like declared a state of emergency, and on Thursday launched a new organization aimed at pressuring all levels of government to step up action on the file.

Long-time homeless advocates, such as street nurse Cathy Crowe, and city councillors like Kristyn Wong-Tam, were at city hall Thursday morning to unveil the Shelter and Housing Justice Network (SHJN), not unlike the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) from 20 years ago.

Steve Meagher of the Christie Refugee Welcome Centre, said the group will advocate for both short- and long-term solutions to homelessness and housing from all three levels of government.

“For many years — for many, many years — we have continued to raise concerns about the suffering that homelessness inflicts upon our city’s most vulnerable residents,” Meagher told reporters.

“And for far too long we have heard our political leaders acknowledge that we must do better when it comes to addressing homelessness. And yet, despite this recognition, the crisis has only continued to worsen, with the impacts becoming more widespread and severe. Today we say enough.”

A spokesperson for Mayor John Tory says the mayor has repeatedly expressed his support for adding additional capacity to the shelter system and opening more 24-hour respite sites.

“The mayor and city council have made investments in the shelter system and continue to call on both the provincial and federal governments to invest more in supportive housing and mental health initiatives,” Don Peat said.

‘It’s crowded. It’s not healthy’

Street nurse Cathy Crowe said she’s concerned the lack of shelter spaces will result in more homeless people getting sick. (Metro Morning)

Twenty years ago, when the TDRC was formed, there were an estimated 200,000 people who were homeless across Canada and about 5,000 in the City of Toronto, according to Crowe. Since then, both of those numbers have nearly doubled.

Before the news conference, Crowe spoke to CBC Radio’s Metro Morning, and said among the group’s demands is that the City of Toronto declare a state of emergency over the homelessness crisis. Crowe believes that such a move would compel the provincial and federal government to make more resources available to the city.

Metro Morning
Homeless advocates ask City to declare state of emergency

00:00 08:56

Overcrowding, violence, disease outbreaks … that’s what city advocates are seeing in Toronto’s homeless shelters and respite centres this season. They say it’s reached emergency conditions — and this morning, they are calling on the city to take immediate action. One of those people is street nurse Cathy Crowe. 8:56

The city’s shelters have been operating at well over the 90 per cent capacity mark set by councillors, and nearly 1,000 people are in the overflow system, which includes respite centres and overnight drop-in centres that are not meant to replace shelter services. Those spaces often do not include things like adequate bathroom and shower facilities, and have only mats on the floor for people to sleep on.

“It’s crowded. It’s not healthy. There’s a lot of violence and tension,” Crowe told Matt Galloway.

“These facilities often have disease outbreaks, including Strep A, flu and even tuberculosis, she said, “and when that happens, it’s hellish, to say the least.”

Some overflow sites are not equipped to offer 24-hour service, she noted, but do so in order to meet the demand. Others were not meant to stay open year-round, she added, but have.

Crowe said declaring a state of emergency over homelessness might unlock emergency funds to supplement rent, and speed up plans for more social housing or housing geared to income.

SHJN’s mandate, Meagher said, is to: ensure the safety, dignity and autonomy for those experiencing homelessness, ensure access to housing for all, advocate for a national social housing program in Canada to be re-established, and to enhance access to critical services and supports.

In addition to the state of emergency declaration, the group has five other demands:

  • That the City of Toronto declare a state of emergency over the opioid crisis, which is also affecting those who are homeless.
  • That the city open the Sprung Instant Structures (temporary shelters) to not only create more spaces but in particular to help women and members of the LGBT community.
  • That the city open 1,000 more shelter beds in 2019 to ease overcrowding.
  • That the city commit to opening 100,000 rent-geared-to-income housing units over the next five years.
  • That all levels of government commit to investing one per cent more of their existing budgets in tackling housing and homelessness.

Asked who is in the city’s shelter system, Crowe said it’s a range of people, from those who have been “in the system for years,” to people who have recently lost their housing, whether they were kicked out of a rooming house, lost an apartment, developed a health crisis or suffered some other catastrophic event. There are also likely people from other communities that do not have shelters, she said.

Crowe said she’s worried about further disease outbreaks and deaths. Last year, nearly 100 homeless people died in Toronto, a rate of nearly two deaths per week.

We’ve endorsed! Open Letter Regarding Cuts to LAO Immigration and Refugee Services

Although the cuts to services for immigrants and refugees have been the deepest, the 30% cut to Legal Aid Ontario’s budget has also resulted in cuts to criminal and family law services, as well as to the budgets of community legal clinics. We know that these cuts have already resulted in the loss of front-line services (despite promises by Premier Ford), and will hit the most vulnerable people in Ontario the hardest.

For more information about how to take action on cuts to Legal Aid Ontario:

* Stop the Cuts: Access to Justice for All!
* Stop Legal Aid Cuts
* Reverse the Cuts to Parkdale Community Legal Services

PDF of the Open Letter and Endorsements