A crisis for the homeless
A transition, by definition, involves not just moving away from something, but moving toward something else. When it comes to housing, city officials have mastered the art of moving people away from something, but haven’t quite gotten the part of moving them to an alternative.
The recently published data on the shelter system shows this very clearly. In 2021, an average of 30 people a day were turned away from shelters due to lack of space. In the first seven months of this year, the number more than doubled, to an average of 70 people per day.
And even that statistic doesn’t tell the whole story. In the first two months of this summer, a time when fewer people typically seek shelter indoors, an average of 107 people a day were turned away. In July, the average was 113, more than 11 times that of last July.
Although the city insists the shelter system is not in crisis, the numbers suggest the system is, well, in crisis. There are many reasons for this, some of which are beyond the control of local authorities, such as the strain placed on the system by the COVID-19 pandemic and the influx of refugees now seeking shelter.
But also, some factors were well within the city’s control. Notably, the clearing of encampments and the closure of two shelters earlier this year likely both contributed to the current crisis. Indeed, the average overnight occupancy of shelters increased dramatically after camps were cleared and shelters closed.
While January saw higher average occupancy than any month in 2021, the rate has steadily increased since: shelters now house more than 8,000 people per night, compared to an average of around 6,400 per night. months throughout last year.
Now, to be sure, neither encampments nor shelters are a solution to the lack of adequate housing, and homeless people and housing advocates have said so. City officials pointed out that we need to move people indoors, which is true, but you need to have a place indoors for people to go.
Writing in the Star, columnist Shawn Micallef noted that since the city has been unable to move homeless people from encampments to shelters, they have found their own place inside – in the cages of staircase and empty properties. And it’s probably even worse, for everyone, than the camps.
Likewise, the city said the shelter closures were part of a transition away from the shelter sites the city had leased during the pandemic. But closing the shelters is like walking away from something. Ideally, people would be transferred to permanent supportive housing, but the stock of such housing remains largely insufficient.
Certainly, Toronto’s ambitious HousingTO 2020-2030 action plan has made progress toward increasing the supply of affordable and supportive housing. Yet, so far, this remains insufficient.
As the Star reports, a total of 1,827 people moved from shelters to permanent accommodation from January to June, compared to 1,783 people during the same period last year. This is a positive development, but it is clearly insufficient given that more people than last year do not have access to temporary shelter. As long as they remain insufficient, shelters are only the alternative to camps and stairwells.
And as we move into fall and winter, the need for adequate housing becomes even more urgent. Last year, 216 homeless people died on the streets, some of whom literally froze to death. Others had their fingers or toes amputated due to extreme frostbite.
Additionally, the cost of housing has now become a crisis in itself, and it’s not just about housing itself: according to a recent Food Banks Canada survey, 61% of respondents said the cost of housing was the most great obstacle to affording them food.
But paying the rent is also a major challenge, with many people now facing eviction. And we can’t afford to add more Torontonians to the list of those looking for a roof over their heads.
Certainly, this is not a problem that can be solved by the city alone. The provincial and federal governments must step in and work together. But it is also not a problem that can be solved without the city, and therefore the housing crisis must be at the heart of the municipal elections in October.
And on this point, we should consider another transition: we need to move away from advisers who plan to house someone else’s problem, and towards those who have shown, by word and deed, that they believe that every person deserves a place to call home. .