Deputation, A Shelter Crisis

November 28, 2017

 

Kapri Rabin working at desk

At Street Health, we see first-hand the people who fall through the cracks of Toronto’s overcrowded shelter system. Clients come in who couldn’t find a bed the night before, who were assaulted in a shelter, who have contracted an infectious disease or been exposed to a bed bug infestation. Even though winter is looming, many people would rather sleep outside then be warehoused in a full capacity shelter.

Our Executive Director, Kapri Rabin, felt it was important to attend a recent meeting of the Community Development & Recreation Committee and give a deputation, giving voice to the concerns of our clients and community:

  

Deputation to Community Development and Recreation Committee

Toronto City Council

Re: 2018 Shelter Infrastructure Plan and Progress Report – CD24.7

Nov 20, 2017

 

Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you today about the 2018 Shelter Infrastructure Plan and Progress report.

 

My name is Kapri Rabin and I am the Executive Director of Street Health, located at Sherbourne and Dundas. Street Health has been working in the downtown east Toronto community for 30 years providing nursing, mental health, harm-reduction, identification replacement and identification storage services for people who are homeless, marginally housed and who struggle with poverty. Our programs have over 2000 client visits every month. We know the challenging housing, shelter and physical, mental health, substance use issues facing the community.

 

While the proposed plan recommends some very necessary improvements to the administrative functions related to community engagement, expediting the approval of shelter sites as per the Shelter Infrastructure Plan, and enhancing supports for every person identified as homeless in the shelter system through the integration of case management and health issues. The current plan does not address the immediate crisis that the shelter system is experiencing and the daily impact this has on people who need to access the shelters.

 

It is not new information that the shelter system is well over capacity and there are no beds available in the system. This is well documented. People who are sick and struggling are being told “sorry there are not beds available”. The City’s response has been to increase the supply of warming center spaces this year and to open these spaces earlier in the season. While these are important initiatives, they do not address the need for shelter beds. Warming centers and Out-of-the-Cold programs offer substandard accommodation. There are mats on a floor or a chair to sit in – if you are lucky enough to get one - with limited washrooms and no shower facilities. These resources are not shelters.

 

The numbers are staggering. According to the City’s own website, there are currently over 5600 shelter beds available in the system as of Dec 2017. Why isn’t this enough? According to the City’s updated information 16,000 unique individuals used the shelter system in 2016, 22% or 3,583 people were identified as being homeless for over 6 months- thereby meeting the definition of chronic homelessness. The use of the City emergency shelter system has been on the rise for several years - exacerbated by the lack of affordable housing, stagnant social assistance rates, increase in demand from those seeking refugee status, etc. On an average night there are over 5000 people using the shelter system in 2017 compared to over 4000 in 2016.

 

This plan being presented to you today identifies a number of shelters currently under development for Q3 in 2018 but most of them are slated for 2019 or  it is yet to be determined when they will open. They will not be available in the short term to address the current and ongoing shelter system crisis. Many of the beds identified are replacement beds of shelters that were previously closed (124 beds in the Hope Shelter being replaced by 60 beds in the New Hope Shelter). Some of the beds being identified are in fact not shelter spaces but transitional housing the Youth Link shelter and the Egale transitional housing.

 

Today we are asking the Community Development and Recreation Committee to direct Hostel Services to open additional emergency shelter beds. Given the difficulty in securing permanent sites for shelter, we propose that interim sites be opened (in City-run facilities like community centres) and that proper beds, food and washroom facilities be made available.

 

We all believe that the solution to ending homelessness is to build decent, deeply affordable, accessible housing for all. However we do not believe that the most marginalized in our community should be forced to suffer without access to decent housing. Until people can access decent housing the City must provide basic shelter.