I am sharing this post created by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), an advocacy group that works tirelessly to address issues of affordable housing and poverty in Ontario. http://www.ocap.ca/.
After the deaths of four homeless men in Toronto and, under enormous community pressure, the City of Toronto has taken some important steps to deal with the crisis of overcrowding in the homeless shelters. Today, the Community Development and Recreation Committee of City Council met and the following initiatives emerged from it.
1. Motel space will be opened up in the in both the west and east ends of the City. An immediate 90 spaces will operate by Monday but the locations are 'expandable' and the Administration committed to using these facilities to ensure that occupancy levels do not exceed 90% in all of the sectors of the system.
2. The two 24 hour drop in spaces for homeless women and trans people that should have been opened last month will be included in the City Budget and the first will open in March and the second the following month. We are appalled by this outrageous delay but the very fact that the drop ins will open in two to three months is a gain. A short while ago, there was no indication that they would even be included in the Budget for 2015
3. Two shelters will open by the summer for LGBTQ youth, a part of the homeless population that faces particular exclusion from the shelter system.
4. Shelter Services and the Board of Health are being asked to reassess the cold weather alert system to distinguish between the needs of the general population and the homeless. This means looking at opening warming centres before the temperature has dropped to -15c and keeping them open during much if not all of the winter.
5. Adhering to the 90% and the other measures will be included in Budget proposals but City staff are instructed to get to the 90% level immediately. The full Council is asked to endorse the results of the meeting but additional space will open in the meantime.
In the situation where overcrowded shelters are threatening lives, the gains made today are important but it's completely necessary to point out that the history of providing shelter for the homeless in Toronto is one where those in power have done as little as possible when they absolutely had to. Some concrete resources have been freed up but we will have to keep taking action, challenge any and all backsliding, push for further improvements and engage the Provincial and Federal Governments as well to move beyond a struggle for mere shelter beds and to take up the fight for housing.
For further reading on the recent homeless deaths in Toronto and the need for more reliable records of these fatalities is an article from NOW magazine: