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~
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:
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.
Reinstate low-barrier 24/7 respite space until the shelter capacity is below 90%, as per the Toronto Shelter Standards
Keep existing hotel-shelter spaces open, and add at least 2700 more non-congregate shelter spaces
Stop the eviction of encampments and the destruction of survival gear
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.
Health Providers Against Poverty
Shelter Housing and Justice Network
Student Christian Movement of Canada
Plus several Frontline Workers / Health Providers, People with Lived Experience, and Concerned Residents of Toronto!
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/.
Thompson, Mitchell. “Toronto Low-income Housing Programs Brace for Cuts.” PressProgress, 22 Oct. 2022, pressprogress.ca/toronto-low-income-housing-programs-brace-for-cuts.
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.
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.
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.
“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/
“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/.
“Toronto Shelter Standards”. City of Toronto, 2015, www.toront.ca/community-people/community-partners/emergency-shelter-operators/toronto-shelter-standard