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Dear Mayor Tory and Members of Council,
We are writing to denounce the City’s decision to source a private security firm to “patrol and monitor ” public parks with expanded responsibility including “physically removing” and legally arresting people. While the City spends millions of dollars to fund the policing of people who are homeless, major funding cuts to outreach drop ins and meal services have been announced and shelter hotel closures are in progress. The act of enhancing enforcement while cutting services is both cruel and ineffective. Policing people who stay in parks is a violent intervention that criminalizes homelessness, increases stigma and leads to trauma, stress and poor health. For these reasons forced displacement has been condemned by the Centers for Disease Control and United Nations. The City must end policies that perpetuate physical and structural violence towards people who are poor and immediately devote adequate resources to ending homelessness in our City.
People are sleeping outside and in encampments because they have nowhere else to go. There is a massive shortage of shelter and housing. According to City of Toronto statistics an average of 113 people searching for a shelter bed are turned away each night because no beds are available. Based on City data at least 2000 more shelter beds are required to meet the need. Closing shelter hotels and meal and drop-in programming will worsen this situation.
For many people existing shelters are not safe. This past January fifty sites- over half of all shelters- had an active COVID 19 outbreak. People must choose between sleeping outside or risking exposure to an infectious disease by staying in a crowded congregate shelter. In 2021 an average of six people per month died in Toronto shetlers from an opioid overdose. Most shelters have inadequate harm reduction measures and are not safe for people who use drugs.
People who are homeless frequently face violence and harassment from police and security services. They are kicked out of stores, parks and alleyways often based on appearance alone. Increasing policing within parks will only cause more trauma and hardship- when shelter is not available people have no choice but to be outside. Forced displacement simply pushes people into other encampments or hidden places like ravines leading to isolation, poor health outcomes, and death.
The housing and shelter crisis was created by negligence and poor policy. The City is now brutalizing those impacted by bad housing policy by violently displacing those who have no option but to stay in an encampment. The City must end this harmful and futile practice and devote all resources to creating safe housing and shelter. Addressing the housing and shelter crisis is ultimately the only way to reduce the amount of people who must stay outside.
We call on the City of Toronto to:
1. Immediately stop the eviction of encampment residents and the policing of public spaces. Devote the resources spent on private security to keeping drop-in and meal programs open.
2. End the planned closure of shelter hotels. Closing shelters will force more people to spend the winter outside.
3. Immediately add an additional 2,000 non-congregate spaces to the
shelter system to ensure everyone can access shelter.
4. Collaborate with Provincial and Federal governments to immediately build at least 10,000 rent geared to income units in Toronto and ensure the Rapid Housing Initiative is adequately funded on an ongoing basis.
5. Purchase and/or expropriate property to build social and supportive housing.
6. Immediately collaborate with people who use drugs to implement harm reduction measures into shelters. This may include creating supervised consumption sites, safety checks by request and permitting guests.
Danielle Koyama, Frontline Worker
Cathy Crowe, Street Nurse
Greg Cook, Outreach Worker
Jessica Hales, Nurse Practitioner
Shelter and Housing Justice Network Steering Committee
For more information contact:
Shelter and Housing Justice Network
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