Housing advocates have released hidden camera footage of two of Toronto’s 24-hour respite centres and one warming centre to illustrate what they say is a growing housing and shelter crisis for the city’s homeless population.
“You will see in the film footage many people in wheelchairs and walkers. You will see old people. You will see very young people and they are stuck there for eternity,” street nurse and homeless activist Cathy Crowe said during a news conference at Toronto city hall Tuesday morning.
“This is a second tier, second class shelter system and we are a second class city to allow it to happen.”
The video, which runs nearly six minutes, shows a warming centre with people laying on cots lined up next to each other in a hallway.
Another section of the footage shows a 24-hour respite centre with people crowded in tight quarters in an open space.
WATCHING: Tory shuts down advocacy group’s request for Toronto to declare homelessness emergency
Housing advocates in Toronto say they want city officials to declare homelessness a state of emergency.
“In the city of Toronto emergency plan, it says that an emergency is a situation that constitutes a danger of major proportions that could result in serious harm to persons,” Crowe said.
“We are seeing serious harm to persons every day. The worst of course being deaths. There are at least four deaths that have happened this year. They have all been extremely violent deaths and we are investigating two others at this point.”
In a joint letter to Toronto’s planning and housing committee, councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Gord Perks said the deaths can be attributed to the severe lack of affordable housing, insufficient supportive and transitional housing and mental health services, and shelter overcrowding.
“Toronto’s housing crisis is so dire, that disaster relief structures being put into use are not enough and we require an emergency response from all levels of government,” the letter stated.
The call to action comes as Toronto deals with an extreme cold weather snap that has plunged the city into a deep freeze for the past several days.
“Mayor Tory, homelessness is 365 days a year and that’s why we need real solutions and we need them now before more people die,” Rafi Aaron, a spokesperson from the Interfaith Coalition to Fight Homelessness, said.
Mayor John Tory responded to the advocacy group on Tuesday saying a declaration of a state of emergency will have little effect at improving the lives of the homeless.
“We’ve been advised by our lawyers, and I look at it not just from a legal standpoint, but I understand it is just not going to make a difference either in terms of the lives of the people we’re trying to help or in terms of the attitudes of the governments,” Tory said.
“We’re better off to spend our time sitting down with them as I’m doing repeatedly day by day and publicly, advocating that they should step in to help us where we need it, on supportive housing, on the refugees and longer term on the affordable housing.”
VIDEO: Toronto advocates, councillors call on City to declare homelessness ‘state of emergency.’ Caryn Lieberman reports.
Earlier this month, city officials issued eviction notices to people living in areas under the Gardiner Expressway, citing safety concerns. However, some people have said that even though they are being told to pack up their tents and leave, others plan on returning.
Last week, housing advocates staged a rally at a downtown alleyway where a 58-year-old woman was fatally struck by a garbage truck. It was believed she was sleeping under a blanket near a steam grate when the vehicle reversed and hit her.
VIDEO: Advocacy group says shocking video of homeless plight needs exposure
The group demanded 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.
“We are facing a homelessness crisis that requires a co-ordinated emergency intergovernmental human rights based response,” said the letter to the planning and housing committee.
“It is imperative that we, as a Municipal government, declare that homelessness is a humanitarian crisis, which we do not possess the resources to manage alone in Toronto.”
The letter also calls for support from the provincial government under the Emergency Response and Civil Protection Act and an application to federal ministries to create an intergovernmental table to address housing and homelessness in Toronto.
VIDEO: Man staying at Toronto respite centre describes life in the cold
–With a file from Caryn Lieberman