'It is a crisis:' Anti-poverty advocates call on city to add shelter beds
Chris Fox, CP24.com
Published Wednesday, March 23, 2016 11:42AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, March 23, 2016 11:58AM EDT
A number of anti-poverty advocates held a press conference outside Mayor Tory’s office on Wednesday morning to call on the city to add shelter beds and address the growing crisis facing the homeless.
Representatives from 19 community agencies as well 37 advocates for the homeless have penned an open letter in which they call on the city to open new shelter space, prevent the further loss of shelter beds and begin enforcing its own policy of capping shelter occupancy at 90 per cent.
In the winter months, the city’s shelter network usually operates at about 93 per cent capacity; however the number is higher at facilities reserved for women or youth.
“Last year three people died on the streets. Of course this is tragic but what is even more tragic is that this represents just the tip of the iceberg of people who are homeless who are dying from cold exposure,” Dr. Mike Benusic, who is a member of Health Providers Against Poverty, told reporters on Wednesday. “For every person who dies of hypothermia there are 100 other people who are dying from other illnesses caused by the cold and as a healthcare provider I see this all the time.”
Last month, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty released a report that found that 81 per cent of homeless Torontonians who were surveyed reported being denied entrance to an shelter because it was at capacity while 55 per cent reported being denied entry to a 24-hour warming centre for the same reason.
The report also blamed the overcrowding at shelters for a number of other issues. Specifically, it pointed out that from 2010 to 2015 Toronto Public Health confirmed 18 outbreaks of infectious diseases within city shelters. Those outbreaks in turn led to 660 people becoming sick, according to the report.
“The report confirmed what many people who work with the homeless already knew,” OCAP member Yogi Acharya told reporters at city hall. “Suffice to say it is big crisis.”
Toronto has a total of 4,363 beds available in its shelter network.
Homeless advocates, however, contend that many shelters in the system are regularly at 98 or 99 per cent capacity.