Almost a month after my motion asking to open the federal armouries to shelter the homeless was defeated, I'm happy to know Mayor Tory has reconsidered his position on the Moss Park Armoury. We've lost time and now need to work fast to get this done.
Opening the Exhibition Place’s Better Living Centre to homeless for winter respite is a step in a good direction but it still falls short of a permanent solution. Toronto needs to open the armouries and 1000 new permanent shelter beds.
City staff have been working hard to deliver the temporary fix of adding 400 spaces with more hotel beds, wedging more beds into existing crowded spaces and now using the cavernous Better Living Centre. This is commendable but a flawed plan nevertheless. Every year activists force City Council to do more to help the homeless and to elevate the overcrowded shelter system. From the 24-hr women's drop-in centres, to the warming and winter respite centres. Each time it's been community pressure that got results.
I think that are good people on every side of this discussion and although work is being done, I agree with street nurse and activist Cathy Crowe, Sistering and many others that the band-aid solutions are dangerous and not enough. Ward 27 has 25% of the permanent shelter beds in the systems (not counting hotel beds) and my community says they need help. The front line workers, managers, clients and the neighbourhoods that host shelter services are looking to City Hall for workable and real solutions.
I have spoken to front line workers from city-operated shelters who are burnt out and extremely demoralized. They don't want to turn people away but have to because their shelters are full. Then they can't refer people to another shelter because everyone else is full. Every category of shelters is above the 90% occupancy. It's misleading to count the 1352 hotel beds as a part of the permanent shelter system. Subtracting that from the real permanent beds then the shelter system only has 4117 beds. Far short of the 5387 beds needed last night.
To make up 400 "new shelter spaces" created in the Mayor's plan, staff will be adding another 200 hotel beds and counting them again as new "shelter beds." When politicians boast about adding 1000 new shelter beds last year to the system, this is how they do it. With hotel beds.
To relieve the overcrowded system staff are adding more winter respite centres. Let me be clear, these shouldn't be counted as new permanent shelter beds. They don't meet the standards. Like the volunteer-run, temporary Out of the Cold program, by April they'll be shut down.
The rise of homelessness in Toronto is a crisis. Even if one is unwilling to declare an emergency, we are in big trouble and trends are confirming it. Open the armouries and let's commit to create 1000 new and real shelter beds in 2018. Lives are depending on it.
After we open the Armouries, we need to create 1000 new permanent shelter beds in 2018. When the Out of the Cold programs and winter respite centres close in April, an even bigger shelter crisis is before us.