Around 10 pm last night, we secured a significant victory in the fight for shelters. Council voted 34-8 in favour of a motion to make the necessary funds to build 1,000 shelter beds available this year.

Mobilizations of homeless people and their allies, like the one we had yesterday, have forced the City and the Mayor to dramatically shift positions. In a span of a few months, they went from downplaying the seriousness of the crisis, to acknowledging there was one; from refusing to open necessary respite sites, to opening 8 this winter; from planning to shut down the respite sites in April to budgeting money to keep them open until the end of the year; and finally, from refusing to budget money for 1,000 beds this year to doing so last night. It’s a testament to the power of fighting back.

Mayor John Tory’s “just right” budget will guarantee continued misery for the homeless

Budget day rally and action at City Hall on Monday, February 12, starting at 9am, to demand that council approve 1500 new shelter beds, and add at-least 1000 this year, to alleviate the deadly crisis plaguing homeless people in Toronto.

Toronto: The preliminary budget championed by Mayor John Tory adds a maximum of 361 new shelter beds this year. That’s less than a quarter of the 1500 that are necessary to guarantee a bed for everyone in need. The 361 number also includes 81 transitional housing beds, which won’t be available on an emergency basis, reducing the tally of new shelter beds to 280. With the shelter system packed to capacity, over 700 people are currently forced to stay the back-up system of sub-standard respite centres.

The future of Toronto’s shelter system is set to be decided next week at a special budget meeting and CityNews has obtained exclusive footage from inside some of these shelters, which some say are often cold, overcrowded and unsanitary.

“You’re surrounded by a sea of people suffering, who are sick, some people sound like they are dying,” said Paul Salvatori, a photojournalist who provided CityNews with the exclusive video.

Being in Toronto’s homeless shelter system is “like riding an overstuffed subway or streetcar,” said Dana Dack, a harm reduction worker for Sistering, a Toronto non-profit for homeless or precariously-housed women.

“You have no space, you can’t breathe, and you start having anxiety,” Dack said. “At least when you get off of the subway or streetcar, you can go home.” This isn’t the case for those living in Toronto’s shelters.

The City of Toronto’s homeless shelter services are in immediate need of 1,500 additional beds for those in the homeless community, said Toronto Frontline Agencies and Advocates’ (TFAA) earlier this week during a press conference at Toronto City Hall.

Dangerous overcrowding in Toronto’s permanent shelter system and in temporary sites is damaging health and human dignity. Being without a safe place to call home is literally a matter of life and death. Toronto Public Health reported that at least 94 people who were homeless died in 2017. That’s about two deaths per week, and the median age of death was only 48 years.

Sleeping outdoors can be deadly. Between Dec. 12, 2017 and Feb. 8, 2018 Toronto had 29 days when an extreme cold weather alert was called. To make matters worse, the city’s overcrowded shelter system is in crisis. On Feb. 5, 2018, for example, the permanent shelter system had 5,758 guests and a 95 per cent occupancy rate. That same night, there were another 768 people sleeping on mats, cots, or chairs at Out of the Cold, winter respite drop-ins, women’s drop-ins, and warming centres. An investigation of these temporary sites by Health Providers Against Poverty found cramped, unsanitary conditions that did not meet the city’s own shelter standards or those of the United Nations.

With so much wealth in the world, why is there so much poverty? Poverty slows the development of all societies, and it’s obvious that we should try to eradicate it, but it still seems intractable. How can we put poverty behind us? And what does our attitude towards poverty and social mobility tell us about who we are? A discussion from the Stratford Festival.

Social justice lawyer Fay Faraday talks about some of the factors around the problem of poverty.

Homeless advocates are once again blasting city hall’s commitment to solving the shelter crisis, arguing its response lacks the funding and speed to really help Toronto’s most vulnerable.

At Tuesday’s executive committee meeting, city staff confirmed the 2018 budget — set to be approved next week — has the capital and operational funding to open 361 new shelter beds, replace 170 and keep 700 respite sites open for the rest of this year.

Mayor John Tory calls that a “significant” improvement.

But it’s far short of the 1,500 new beds that activists and some councillors say are needed.