Winter warming centres for the homeless in Toronto fail to meet the most basic standards set by the city or those set out by the United Nations, according to a report released by a poverty advocacy group.
The study, which looked at eight winter respite centres and two 24-hour drop-ins for women and trans people between mid-December and mid-January, found those shelters had inadequate sleeping areas, poor access to toilets and showers, minimal privacy and concerns over safety.
“Overcrowding, poor access to hygiene facilities, lack of privacy and safety, disruptive sleeping environments, inadequate sleep surfaces and violence all have significant impacts on the health and well-being of those who access the Winter Respite Centres,” Dr. Michaela Beder, one of the authors of the study, said in a media release.
Health Providers Against Poverty (HPAP), the group responsible for the report, interviewed 35 warming centre users as well as staff at the facilities.
They found that almost all of the clients said shelter conditions negatively impacted their health, frequently citing general stress, lack of safety and inadequate conditions as contributing factors.
The report also said 70 per cent of clients reported witnessing verbal, physical, or sexual violence while another 46 per cent reported experiencing violence.
The study also revealed over 80 per cent of shelter users interviewed reported being denied shelter at least once in the past year because the facilities were full.
“Our survey results reflect what service users, grassroots activists, and health care and social service providers have been saying for too long,” Dr. Samantha Green said.
“Our most vulnerable community members deserve more. The current state of homelessness in our city has become a matter of life and death.”
LISTEN: Dr. Samantha Green joins the Morning Show on 640 Toronto
Toronto Mayor John Tory told reporters on Wednesday, ahead of the first city council meeting of 2018, that he plans to move forward with adding 1,000 more beds to the shelter system.
“What we’re doing is moving to address exactly what they’re talking about,” Tory said.
“There can be different numbers that the people will use, but the bottom line is these 1,000 permanent shelter beds are meant to be in place so that people can be sheltered in better conditions than has been the case with the respites centres, where we’ve done our best to make sure no one was denied shelter. But at the same time, I don’t think anybody, including me, would argue that those circumstances have been ideal.”
Anti-poverty advocates are urging city officials to add 1,500 permanent beds to the shelter system in order to bring the occupancy rate below 90 per cent. They are also calling for 1,000 temporary beds in operation to remain open all year.
“They want to see at a minimum 1,500 permanent shelter beds by 2018,” Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said. “At Community, Recreation and Development, we said that we needed to have 1,000 minimum shelter beds in 2018. You figure it out. The number is there. ”
“What is not acceptable is that what’s before us at city council and what will be before us at the budget process is 1,000 beds over three years. That is not going to cut it. It’s going to further enhance this crisis. We’re not going to be able to dig ourselves out.”
The study did not account for the new temporary centres opened during the winter cold snap, which included the armouries, Regent Park Community Centre and the Better Living Centre, but the report did say those locations had improved facilities and services.
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