Toronto turns its back on the homeless

From the Toronto Star

Toronto Council’s decision this week not to open warming centres around-the-clock to provide shelter for the city’s most vulnerable residents was beyond disappointing. It was a disgrace.

Those who objected to making the centres accessible threw up a fog of excuses — cost, staffing — and in the face of real human suffering, offered the most weakest of actions, the promise of further study and a punt to other governments.

On Wednesday, council voted 15-11 against a board of health recommendation to open the centres 24 hours until April 15. Ostensibly oncerned about the lack of funds — remember that councillors ponied up almost $50 million more for the police — council instead supported a motion to ask the federal and provincial governments for more support. And it will investigate the “feasibility of providing 24/7 drop in spaces.”

Certainly, all levels of government need to step up. But a feasibility study? What doesn’t council know? Doesn’t it know that about 100 people are turned away from temporary shelters every day?

Doesn’t it know that freezing temperatures present serious health risks to unhoused people? Doesn’t it know that unsheltered people are currently seeking refuge in public libraries, at all-night restaurants and on the TTC, and that this is one of the reasons police officers are now patrolling public transit?

Mayor John Tory, who voted against the motion to keep the centres open, has long stressed that permanent supportive housing is a better solution than temporary shelters and warming centres. That’s true, but when it comes to permanent or temporary shelter, this isn’t an either/or proposition.

Although undeniably important, permanent housing won’t be built overnight, which means temporary lodging will still be necessary. And even if there were enough homes to go around, that wouldn’t solve the problem.

Many unhoused people have experienced serious trauma — trauma that led them to the street and trauma that keeps them on the street. And transitioning to permanent housing is, for many, a further stressful experience.

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