As city officials discuss the 2018 budget at an executive committee meeting, Toronto anti-poverty advocates are demanding a further 1,500 permanent beds be added to the shelter system this year to address the needs of the homeless.
Toronto frontline agencies and advocates say the city’s current plan to add 361 new beds in 2018 isn’t sufficient, calling it “dangerous and unacceptable.”
“We know we need deeply affordable, supportive housing. But we need shelter beds now. We need both urgently,” Inner City Family Health Team executive director Jo Connelly said during a press conference at Toronto city hall on Tuesday.
“As health providers of care to homeless persons, we see every day what happens to people living in our streets, on our heating grates and in our stairwells. We see how every time we open a 24-hour drop-in or respite centre, they are full immediately.”
The call for additional beds comes as the city grapples with increased demand for shelter space due to the frigid temperatures this winter.
In response, city officials have opened several temporary facilities including the armouries, Regent Park Community Centre and the Better Living Centre.
However, a report released last week found that 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.
The report 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 that more than 80 per cent of shelter users interviewed reported being denied shelter at least once in the past year because the facilities were full.
Mayor John Tory said on Tuesday ahead of a meeting on the 2018 budget that the city is already moving forward with permanent solutions to deal with the shelter crisis.
“I am confident that the measures that we have included in the budget, which is one of the most significant investments in additional permanent shelter beds, is something that is going to make a substantial difference. And I’m wanting to get that passed today and again next week at city council and move forward to get those beds in place,” Tory said.
The budget committee will consider on Tuesday the opening of 1,000 shelter beds over three years at 11 sites across the city.
A staff report on the estimated cost associated with the new beds is $1.6 million in 2018, with incremental costs of $10.9 million in 2019, $12.7 million in 2020, and $9.9 million in 2021.
VIDEO: Anti-poverty advocates say conditions at temporary shelters are below standards