‘This is an emergency’: New calls for City of Toronto to tackle homeless crisis

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WATCH ABOVE: After a second woman died on Toronto streets in a week, homeless advocates are calling on the City of Toronto to increase funding for shelter beds. As Caryn Lieberman reports, a group gathered at the location where a woman died on Tuesday after being hit by a garbage truck – Jan 17, 2019

A group of homeless and housing advocates is calling on the City of Toronto to declare an emergency to secure provincial and federal assistance in hopes of ending the housing crisis and homeless deaths.

“The mayor has to understand that this is chaos, that on a daily basis all the agencies that are trying to deal with this are having a hard, hard time, and more importantly the people living in those places are having a hard time,” said Gaetan Heroux of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP).

Heroux was one of several dozen people who gathered downtown, near University Avenue and Adelaide Street, over the lunch hour on Thursday to lay flowers on a grate in an alley where it is believed a woman was sleeping early Tuesday when she was truck and killed by a garbage truck.

READ MORE: Person sleeping in alley struck and killed by garbage truck in downtown Toronto, police say

“It breaks your heart quite frankly because these women should not be dying. No homeless person should be dying in this city,” said Patricia O’Connell, executive director at Sistering, a west-end charity-run women’s shelter.

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O’Connell said she knew another woman who died last week trapped in a donation box.

Friends had said Crystal Papineau struggled with homelessness and addiction.

“There’s no outreach here, other than from the community that works with homeless people, it doesn’t seem that it’s registering,” she said.

READ MORE: City of Toronto orders people living under Gardiner Expressway to leave within 2 weeks

The group is demanding 2,000 new shelter beds in 2019, noting the City’s plans for the creation of 1,000 new shelter beds by 2020 is not sufficient.

Also, “affordable housing, open harm reduction-based shelters for women and trans people, and fund overdose prevention programs across the province,” listed OCAP’s A.J. Withers while calling on all governments to do more to address the issues.

“John Tory, Doug Ford, Justin Trudeau, you can stop this from happening.”

Dr. Nanky Rai is a primary care physician who works in a community health centre setting and also the shelter system.

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She called the deaths of two women on city streets in a week “a form of social murder.”

“We, as a society, are actually responsible for these deaths,” said Rai.

“We can’t just walk by these faces and say, ‘Oh, that’s senseless,’ or, ‘Oh, that’s heartbreaking.’ It’s not just heartbreaking, it’s actually a responsibility that all of us need to taken on to ourselves.”

Overnight Wednesday, the city’s shelters were nearly entirely at capacity.

Included in the plans to respond to homelessness are the addition of two 24-hour women’s drop-ins opened to better address the needs of women experiencing homelessness and the Davenport Road Women’s Shelter to open next week.

READ MORE: Woman dies after being trapped inside clothing donation box in Toronto

That’s not nearly enough for Roxie Danielson, a street nurse with the Shelter and Housing Justice Network, who said many of her clients are dying because they need urgent action.

“Do something! This is a crisis, this is an emergency, and we need to declare it,” said Danielson.

Heroux echoed that call.

“We are in chaos, this is chaos,” he said.

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“You have situations where new people, people who are very vulnerable, cannot negotiate a system that is that full.”