Homelessness Crisis – Open Letter to City Council

Dear Colleagues & Community,

We invite all frontline community workers, health providers, researchers, and concerned Torontonians to sign this open letter drafted by Health Providers Against Poverty and Shelter Housing Justice Network. This letter will be posted publicly with signatories. It may also be shared with media, published or posted online on a website.

Your email address will NOT be released publicly.

 Please share widely with colleagues and on social media – click here to sign~
https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfCeLp1tA8N9ddtwzI2NLxlILxZrfJOI4edZgeDL_UarwtiIQ/viewform

Thank you!

——

January 9, 2023

To: Members of Board of Health, Economic and Community Development Committee, all members of Council, and Mayor Tory

Toronto is one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Yet, last year, at least five people experiencing homelessness died of cold weather related injuries. Meanwhile, hospitals reported numerous cases of frostbite and hypothermia, and in December, the Homeless Memorial recorded the highest number of homeless deaths in a month in Toronto.

These deaths are preventable. These hypothermia and freezing related deaths are preventable. Cold-related injuries, like frostbite, which can lead to permanent disfigurement, loss of life and limb, disability, and serious complications such as sepsis are also preventable.

How the City chooses to spend its budget highlights its priorities. When we talk about investing in community safety, this will not come from increased policing. Rather, communities have safety when they have stability and access to basic human rights: housing, healthcare, sleep, food, and social supports.

Yet, in the last year, we have seen the cutting of housing workers and programs, the slashing of drop-in funds, and the disappearance of 24/7 respite spaces. The City has closed down – and will continue to  close – numerous shelter-hotel spaces, displacing hundreds of residents back onto the streets. Instead of investing in safe spaces for vulnerable people, the Mayor is proposing an increased budget to Toronto Police Services, TTC Special Constables and TTC outreach workers. The fact remains that decreased social services and supports leaves people with nowhere to go. People are going to hospitals because they have nowhere else to go, leaving both hospitals scrambling to find options for safe shelter – and coming up empty. Transit police and outreach workers also have nowhere to send people. Without available, safe, and accessible space for unhoused people to come indoors, any investment or attempts at outreach or triage are ultimately fruitless.

People who are unhoused, vulnerably housed, and in precarious living scenarios have nowhere to go. Shelters are beyond capacity, even according to the City’s own data. Warming centres are limited, with only 45 cots available in downtown Toronto. They are only opened when temperatures drop below -15 ℃ which leaves people out in the cold when temperatures are below freezing but not at this arbitrary threshold. Research shows that the majority of cases of cold related injuries and deaths occur during periods of low to moderate cold. Meanwhile, the City’s own data shows that over 100 people are turned away from shelters and sleep outside every night.3 There are over 80,000 families on the affordable housing waitlist. Most people wait over 10 years for housing, and even longer should you have accessibility needs.

As of October 2022, there were 144 families on Central Intake’s waitlist waiting to be placed. They are neither in emergency shelters nor in shelter-hotels. These families are sometimes put into motels paid for by the City, but they are most often instructed to apply for Ontario Works and use their social assistance to rent their own motel rooms.

To stay warm and find respite, people are riding the subway, on overnight buses, sleeping at Union Station, in emergency rooms and hospital lobbies, and going to businesses that are open late. These options are far from ideal and are adding pressure to transit workers and business owners, as well as exacerbating the hospital crisis.

This is a worsening humanitarian crisis.

It is estimated that 20,000 people cycle through the shelter system yearly. This number continues to grow, and we have an opportunity now to enact real change that will save lives.

We implore the City make the following changes:

  1. Open warming centers between September 15 and June 1 every year when the forecasted temperature for the day is 0°C or below, and ahead of inclement weather including freezing rain or snow. Ensure livable conditions in these spaces, i.e. access to hot meals, washrooms, showers, proper sleeping spaces with distanced measures, as well as social work supports. Create a minimum of 250 spaces downtown, with access to alternative spaces granted through TTC fare or taxi.

  2. Reinstate low-barrier 24/7 respite space until the shelter capacity is below 90%, as per the Toronto Shelter Standards

  3. Keep existing hotel-shelter spaces open, and add at least 2700 more non-congregate shelter spaces

  4. Stop the eviction of encampments and the destruction of survival gear

  5. Collaborate with all levels of government to build 10,000 rent geared-to-income units immediately and 90,000 additional units to address the growing waitlist

Delegates organizing this letter would be happy to meet with you to discuss these realities further.

This budget season, the City has the power and opportunity to make different decisions that reflect compassion, dignity and humanity. As a group of health providers, frontline workers, and incredibly concerned Torontonians, we ask that you consider pushing for, and implementing these life-saving demands.

We can, and we must, do better.

Sincerely,

Organizations

Health Providers Against Poverty

Shelter Housing and Justice Network

Unity Kitchen

Student Christian Movement of Canada

Plus several Frontline Workers / Health Providers, People with Lived Experience, and Concerned Residents of Toronto!

References

  1. Casey, Liam. “Coroner Evaluating Inquest Request on Cold-Related Homeless Deaths in Toronto – Toronto.” Global News, Global News, 12 Mar. 2022, https://globalnews.ca/news/8676726/coroner-evaluating-cold-related-homeless-deaths-toronto/.

  2. Thompson, Mitchell. “Toronto Low-income Housing Programs Brace for Cuts.” PressProgress, 22 Oct. 2022, pressprogress.ca/toronto-low-income-housing-programs-brace-for-cuts.

  3. Spurr, Ben. “Mayor John Tory Wants $48.3-million Increase in Toronto Police Budget, Despite COVID-19 Shortfall.” thestar.com, 4 Jan. 2023, www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2023/01/03/mayor-john-tory-plans-483-million-increase-in-toronto-police-budget.html.

  4. Spurr, Ben, and Victoria Gibson. “Number of People Turned Away from Homeless Shelters Has Soared This Year, Data Shows.” Thestar.com, Toronto Star, 11 Aug. 2022, https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2022/08/10/number-of-people-turned-away-from-homeless-shelters-has-soared-this-year-data-shows.html.

  5. Zhang, Paige, et al. “Cold weather conditions and risk of hypothermia among people experiencing homelessness: implications for prevention strategies.” International journal of environmental research and public health 16.18 (2019): 3259.

  6. “Social Housing Waiting List Reports.” City of Toronto, 31 Oct. 2022, https://www.toronto.ca/city-government/data-research-maps/research-reports/housing-and-homelessness-research-and-reports/social-housing-waiting-list-reports/

  7.  “Monthly Ontario Works Amounts.” City of Toronto, 13 Dec. 2021, https://www.toronto.ca/community-people/employment-social-support/employment-support/employment-seekers-in-financial-need/ontario-works-rates/.

  8. “Toronto Shelter Standards”. City of Toronto, 2015, www.toront.ca/community-people/community-partners/emergency-shelter-operators/toronto-shelter-standard

City Evicts Encampment Residents Despite Subzero Temperatures and Full Shelters

Press Conference and Survival Supply Drive

Tuesday, December 20th, 2022, 10AM

Homeless Memorial, Church of the Holy Trinity, 19 Trinity Square, Toronto, ON

 

Despite dangerously cold temperatures and a dire shortage of housing and emergency shelter the City is continuing to confiscate tents and personal belongings in Allan Gardens. An average of 168 people in need of shelter are turned away each day due to bed shortages. Countless others have lost hope and no longer try to access a bed. 

 

People are sleeping in parks in the freezing cold because they have nowhere else to go. Tents and sleeping bags are resources needed to survive freezing temperatures. Displacing encampment residents and confiscating equipment is a violent act that threatens the safety of those who are homeless.

Recent closure of 251 beds at the Novotel hotel-shelter, along with cuts to key programs such as drop-ins, housing support workers and eviction support programs have left people with fewer options for shelter and less supports to exit homelessness. Warming centers only open when temperatures fall below -15C, and the 112 available spaces are not enough to meet the need.


In response to shelter shortages an additional 500 sleeping spaces have been crammed into existing congregate settings. Crowded congregate shelters have poor conditions and frequent infectious disease outbreaks making them unsafe for many people. 

 

We call on the City of Toronto to immediately:

1. Stop the eviction of encampment residents. Stop confiscating survival gear.
2. Add an additional 2,700 non-congregate spaces to the shelter system. Keep all existing shelter hotels open.

3. Until the need for non-congregate shelter is met keep Warming Centres open all winter, regardless of the temperature outside.

4. Collaborate with provincial and federal governments to build rent geared-to-income social housing in Toronto: 10,000 units immediately to address homelessness and 90,000 units to address the growing waitlist.

 

The extreme shortage of emergency shelter and affordable housing is leaving hundreds of people outside in the cold. Let’s tell City Council to stop the violence against encampment residents and protect our right to safe shelter!

Join us December 20th at 10AM at the Homeless Memorial for a Press Conference and Survival Supply Drive!

 

We will be collecting donations of tents, sleeping bags and warm clothing (water-resistant coats, gloves, hats, hoodies, track pants, long johns, thermal socks) 


For more information contact:

ShelterHousingJusticeNetwork@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SHJNetwork 

https://www.facebook.com/ShelterHousingJusticeNetwork

https://www.instagram.com/SHJNetwork


Sharing –  Regarding the clearing of encampment at Allan gardens post-election!

OPEN LETTER TO CHRIS MOISE CANDIDATE FOR COUNCILLOR WARD 13, OCTOBER 20, 2022

Dear Chris Moise,

As the frontrunning candidate to be the Councillor for Ward 13, Toronto Centre, we are asking what steps you will take to prevent the forced eviction of encampment residents from Allan Gardens after the election.

Saint Luke’s United Church, under the leadership of Rev. Jim Keenan, and the Out of the Cold Meal Program at Saint Luke’s have extended their pastoral care and community inclusion to our neighbours living across the street from the church.

We have developed a strong bond with these wonderful community members. We provide counselling, hot meals, water, clothing, harm reduction supplies, the use of our washrooms, as well as art and yoga classes.

We are witnessing a humanitarian disaster. People are being forced to live outside because the shelters are full. In the month of September on average 170 people per night were turned away from Toronto shelters. We know this number is much higher as people no longer call in for shelter beds having being denied them for two or more years.

Where will our friends go after they are evicted? The City has contracted guards to patrol the parks forcing people to scatter into remote places such as ravines, or ride public transit until it closes, others will be put into perpetual motion as they wander the City. These people will all be isolated and cut off from their support and social networks resulting in more suffering and deaths.

Forced eviction can never be a substitute for housing. However, it does inflict violence and trauma on the victims of the City’s failed housing policies.

If elected, we ask that you commit to doing everything possible to prevent forced evictions in the Ward and to be present to support our neighbours when these violent acts occur.

This violent act of displacement is imminent and we ask for your immediate response.

Sincerely,

Rev. Jim Keenan
Minister, Saint Luke’s U.C.,
Co-coordinator, the Out of the Cold Meal Program, Saint Luke’s U.C.

Rafi Aaron
Co-coordinator, the Out of the Cold Meal Program, Saint Luke’s U.C.,
Spokesperson, The Interfaith Coalition To Fight Homelessness

 

 

No Private Security In Public Parks

Click Here to sign this petition:

 

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.

Sincerely,

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
SHJToronto@gmail.com
https://twitter.com/SHJNetwork
https://www.facebook.com/ShelterHousingJusticeNetwork

 

 

 

 

 

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August – September 2022 Update

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Shelter and Housing Justice Network (SHJN)

August – September 2022 Update

Hello folks!

Update from SHJN:

Call to Action for Housing!

Every day the housing crisis across Canada escalates. In Iqaluit elders and youth are forced to sleep outside because there is nowhere else to go. In Kingston, as people struggle with the increased cost of living, more people are losing their housing and shelters are at capacity. In Vancouver, Halifax, Montreal, and in places across the country, people are forced to live in tents, bus shelters, ravines, because there is no where else to go.

In Toronto a state of emergency ensues. More and more people are priced out and pushed out of rental stock and shelters are at capacity. On average 113 people a day are denied access to basic shelter because no beds are available. Despite the dangerous shortage of shelter space the City is planning to close shelter hotels and continues to attack and displace encampment residents.

As winter approaches and temperatures drop the need for safe shelter is even more critical. Lives will be lost as a result of inadequate government action – we must Fight Back! November 22 is National Housing Day. The Shelter and Housing Justice Network (SHJN) is calling for a mass rally to send a loud message to all levels of government—leaving people to suffer and die from lack of shelter and housing can not be allowed to continue. They must build Social Housing Now!

We would like to invite all members of SHJN and concerned parties to help organize and build a November 22 National Housing Day action. To participate join our general members meetings on:

· Wednesday, September 21, 2022 @ 7:00-8:30pm

· Tuesday, October 18, 2022 @ 7:00-8:30pm

Link to join meetings: click here

For more information please email SHJToronto@gmail.com