Anti-poverty groups staged a rally at Toronto City Hall Wednesday morning to put pressure on municipal officials to add more shelter beds for the city’s homeless.
The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) said that despite efforts by city officials to extend respite centres for the remainder of the year and adding 361 new shelter beds, there still isn’t enough space to house those in need.
“The current situation demands the addition of at least 1500 permanent new shelter beds to guarantee a spot for everyone in need,” OACP said in a Facebook event post.
“The City’s plan, at-best, might add about 400 beds over 2018; an expansion that will soon be undermined by the impending closure of Seaton House. This means the crisis will persist, along with its lethal consequences.”
Mayor John Tory told reporters prior to the executive committee meeting at city hall on Wednesday that investments to new shelter spaces are being provided in the shortest period of time possible.
“But what we have found before that when it comes to finding land, finding buildings, doing the renovations and so on, it isn’t a matter of doing that in a number of weeks,” Tory said.
“They are anxious as I am to replace temporary facilities which are clearly stop-gap measures with something much more suitable and more permanent and better, and it takes a little bit of time to do that.”
The overcapacity of Toronto’s homeless shelters caused by the extended cold weather snap in recent weeks has forced city officials to open temporary winter respite locations across the city.
The provincial government announced on Tuesday they are working with the city to improve access to health services for people who are homeless or using shelters.
Toronto is beginning with a project in five new shelters across the city that will provide more than 300 beds to vulnerable people with often complex health needs.
But anti-poverty advocates say there is an urgency to add more shelters beds now. They are calling for at least 700 permanent beds to the shelter system by April 15 and at least 1,500 permanent beds by the end of the year.
The OCAP also want to end the closure of hundreds of social housing units as well as allocating enough funds to achieve these goals in the 2018 budget.
According to the latest city statistics recorded on Jan. 22, the occupancy rate at shelter spaces in Toronto reached 95 per cent of total capacity.
Anti-poverty groups say the occupancy number should be down to 90 per cent.
—With a file from The Canadian Press