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'Atrociously inadequate': City urged to improve winter plan to support Toronto's unhoused population


The City is getting a failing grade for its winter plan to support Toronto's homeless population. The Shelter and Housing Justice Network (SHJN) is releasing its own plan and urging the city to implement it.

"The City's winter plan is and has always been atrociously inadequate," said Mika Wee with the SHJN. "There's still hundreds of people every night sleeping outside, unable to access an indoor shelter space."

In October, the Winter Services Plan for People Experiencing Homelessness was released and started on Monday.

It included adding up to 180 new shelter spaces this winter by reducing the lateral bed separation at select shelters, activating 170 spaces at four warming centres when temperatures dip to minus five degrees, and opening a 24-hour winter respite site with capacity for 40 people. One surge site will also be activated when temperatures fall to minus 15 degrees or during extreme weather events.

"Their plan of having one 24-hour respite site with 40 spaces, 170 warming centers, warming center spaces across four sites set to open at minus five degrees and additional spots by reducing physical distancing and already overcrowded shelters is only setting up for more failure and harm," said Wee. "Our alternative to the city's winter plan outlines a state of this crisis and highlights five key areas of action for city council to effectively intervene in the housing and homelessness emergency."

Those five areas include expanding capacity for access to safe indoor spaces, ensuring a dignified and humane city response, promoting survival for people in encampments, intervening in the financialization of housing and implementing measures that work to increase security and stability.

"The wintertime is a hard time for people," said Lynne, a two-year resident of the Allen Gardens encampment. "I've had frostbite most of this month... It's tingly, and it burns, and it's hard to live with."

In response to the news conference, Mayor Olivia Chow said everyone deserves a roof over their head.

"Since I became the mayor, I changed the threshold in opening the warming center from -15 to -5," she said. "I'm willing to consider other changes, but that's what I've done so far."

She also said 390 more shelter spaces have been opened up and that they've moved 844 people who were on the street or in shelters into housing through the rent supplement program.

"Is that enough? No, because the number of refugees coming into the country have dramatically increased by 54 percent," said Chow. "We still need the $200 million to deal with the existing refugees that are already in our shelter. If nothing happens, I forsee a very difficult winter."

She said she's asked the federal and provincial governments to step up and support the refugees in Toronto shelters now, adding, "I am doing my best given the $1.5 billion budget deficit we have."

The influx of refugees and asylum seekers has been a contributing factor in the crowded shelters, and many of them have also been forced to sleep outside.

On Wednesday morning, an asylum seeker was found dead in a tent outside a Mississauga shelter.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said this should serve as a wakeup call to other levels of government to provide immediate support to municipalities dealing with the growing refugee crisis.

Cheryll Case, founder of CP Planning, said community advocates have been calling for greater investment into solutions.

"We need to massively increase the development of new affordable housing," said Case. "In order to do that, we need to ensure that marginalized communities are at the front of guiding the policies."

When asked if she worries we could see more deaths like this one without a solution this winter, she replied, "That's something that I worry about every day." Top Stories

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