Nobody Left in the Cold
Greetings for 2018! I hope you and your loved ones had a wonderful holiday season. There’s lots to do locally to keep the mid-winter blues at bay,
including auditions for the 512 Talent Show in preparation for the 10th anniversary celebration of the Wychwood Barns on March 3. Mark your calendars, and keep an eye out for tickets available soon. There is also the Wychwood Open Door Trivia Night coming up on February 10. Find out about these and other events below, or check out all upcoming event dates on my website.
There have been about a dozen Extreme Cold Weather Alert days already this winter, and I know that you are concerned about the wellbeing of our city’s vulnerable populations, as am I. Please keep your friends, family, and neighbours in mind and check in on anyone who may be isolated. If you see anyone on the street who may be in need of assistance, I encourage you to contact 311 with an exact location so that they can be checked on, or bring them directly to the Central Intake and Referral Centre at 129 Peter St. In an emergency (e.g., skin is exposed), call 911.
By now you have likely heard that the City’s emergency shelter system is under increasing strain, and that we have been working quickly to ensure that nobody is forced to sleep on the streets this winter.
As I mentioned in my last newsletter, I brought a comprehensive motion to December Council to increase shelter capacity in recognition of this growing crisis of shelter space. The motion was developed in consultation with City staff and supported by the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness. As a result of its successful adoption, in the past month we have opened more than half of the promised 400 shelter and winter respite spaces. These spaces include more motel rooms for families and individuals, 21 drop-in spaces for women at the new Parkdale site, reclaimed space in existing shelters, and over 140 spaces in the Better Living Centre (BLC) at Exhibition Place. The BLC is a huge, City-owned facility that can accommodate people with pets as well, and is a flexible space that ensures nobody will be turned away. Additionally, the Dufferin bus route has been re-routed to drop people off at the doorstep.
There are outreach teams and additional ambulances patrolling downtown to approach street-involved people, offer them a place to stay, and provide transportation. From the Central Intake Centre at 129 Peter Street, folks are offered taxi chits to get to an overnight location (and may also stay on site).
The above spaces have been filling up nearly as quickly as they come online, and we have seen some growing pains that resulted in miscommunication about availability this past week. This type of error can mean the difference between life and death, and we are working with Shelter Support staff and the City Ombudsman to address the problem swiftly so it does not happen again.
In the face of persisting need, the City continues to expand service. On Wednesday, the City called on the federal government for permission to use the Moss Park Armoury as a seventh winter respite location. Pending confirmation that this location will satisfy our requirements (100 beds, 24/7 operation and availability through to April 15, among other things), this seventh site will be opened as soon as possible. On Thursday, in anticipation of wind chill temperatures as low as -40 °C, the City opened two more 24/7 respite locations, one at Metro Hall (55 John St.) and the other at the Regent Park Community Centre (402 Shuter St.). The Regent Park location will have 100 cots, meals, showers, hygiene kits, and referral services. These locations will remain open for the duration of the extreme cold event.
Another part of the December Council motion asked that 291 permanent shelter beds come online in 2018, and we are imminently anticipating the opening of the first 60 beds at a new east-end shelter. The rest will be part of three additional, fully-functional and permanent, downtown shelters. New shelters typically take about 18 months to get up and running, so Shelter Support staff are working hard to secure real estate and hire employees so these can be opened as soon as possible.
How did we get to this emergency state in our shelter system? The answer is multi-faceted, and involves a long history of underinvestment (both operationally and in capital), fluctuating patterns of demand (with over 30 per cent increased demand in the last year), and a lack of leadership toward sustainable improvements. I have said that our shelter system is a bandage on what is realistically a housing problem – and that drop-ins are a bandage on a bandage. This means that we need a measured, thoughtful, and housing-first solution for the long term. It took us time to get into this mess, and it will take more time and significant investment to get us out; that is our “big picture” challenge. In the immediate, I and many others are working hard to ensure that nobody who seeks refuge from the streets this winter is ever turned away.
As ever, the true test of Toronto’s commitment to ending poverty and homelessness lies in the allocation of funds through the annual City Budget. Members of the public will be able to make deputations at Budget Sub-committee meetings on January 8, 9, and 10. For more information on how to make a deputation and to get on the speaker’s list, contact the Budget Committee Secretariat. The final version of the budget will be approved by City Council at a special session beginning February 12.
All the best to you for a happy, healthy, and peaceful year.
Councillor Joe Mihevc
Ward 21, St. Paul’s West