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

What is the City hiding?

Shelter system in collapse, City refuses to release information on extent of crisis

As the City of Toronto continues to turn people out into the cold during a deadly pandemic, it is also withholding information about the severity of the crisis. Advocates have requested specific data about how many people are denied access to shelter, and the City of Toronto has refused to provide it.

“The City says it wants to be partners with the community, it says that there are beds available, it says it doesn’t need help – I don’t see why they won’t provide information about how many people they are turning away unless these things aren’t true,” says Street Nurse and member of the Shelter and Housing Justice Network (SHJN) Steering Committee Cathy Crowe who contacted Shelter, Support and Housing Administration General Manager Gord Tanner requesting the data on Friday January 21th, 2022 and followed-up on Monday January 31st, 2022. She adds, “We know staff are very busy, but we are just talking about emailing an Excel sheet – it is far from onerous. It has been thirteen days and we still don’t have it; we have learned about several deaths outside of the shelter system since then.”

Continue reading

Rally and Press Conference: The Shelter System is in Collapse, We Demand Action!

Thursday, January 20th
11:00 AM
129 Peter Street (at Richmond)
All welcome

Shelters are full. The City has stopped answering the phone or keeps people on hold for long periods when people try to call to access a shelter spot. COVID is sweeping through the system. Meanwhile, the City has cut recovery beds down to 60. COVID positive people who are sick and want a bed have been forced to sleep out in the cold. Multiple people die due to overdose each month. Encampment residents are criminalized.

We commend the City of Toronto for announcing its plan to distribute N95 masks to shelter residents and make rapid tests available. We are also glad to see emergency space opened in community centres. However, it will only be a small percentage of the more than 2,300 beds that are urgently needed. Further, congregate must only be an emergency measure on the way to opening more non-congregate beds – mats or cots on the floor are not real beds and COVID is airborne. Unfortunately, the shelter system is in such crisis that these measures are nowhere near enough.

Come out on Thursday and tell the City:

✓ Provide residents N95 masks – not just workers.
✓ Access to Rapid Tests.

  1. Increase capacity of the COVID recovery program to at least 200 beds.
  2. Immediately incorporate 2,250 permanent, non-congregate shelter beds into the system.
  3. Repeal the ‘no camping’ bylaw.
  4. Extend shelter-hotel leases.
  5. Distribute at least 3,000 new housing allowances to unhoused people in 2022 and make them available to all unhoused people.
  6. Freeze all evictions with the powers of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.
  7. Broaden the emergency weather system to respond to real world conditions (as per the Winter Plan).
  8. Expand overdose prevention, education, training, and response and implement the recommendations of the Toronto Shelter-Hotel Overdose Preparedness Assessment Project.
  9. Implement COVID-19 indoor air quality safety measures and ensure full transparency & public reporting about each shelter site.
  10. Implement all of the recommendations from the SHJN Winter Plan.

We are meeting at 129 Peter Street the Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre – because it the manifestation of the collapsed system. It used to be open 24 hours a day to for people to stay at as they waited for a bed. It is now closed to in person intake and referrals and open only in extreme cold weather.

Come listen to a panel of speakers talk about the crisis in the system and what needs to be done about it.

Please bring survival supplies if you can. These include: warm winter clothing, camping gear (tents, tarps, insulated sleeping pads, hunting pillows/seats), cell phones/phone cards, rapid COVID-19 test kits, aerosol protective masks (N95, KN95), coffee/food/grocery gift cards. Make sure all items are clean and in good condition.

Wear a mask, please socially distance, be COVID responsible, and dress warmly.

Also Take Action with our ELECTRONIC TOOL KIT.