• Denise Paglinawan

Toronto council approves review of homeless shelters

The city is also looking to add 1,000 new shelter beds as part of the homeless winter housing system

The review of winter shelter services was Mayor John Tory’s first item of business for Wednesday’s council meeting agenda. (RSJ/Denise Paglinawan)

After hours of debate, Toronto council on Wednesday voted to examine the city’s homeless shelters and emergency relief services after December’s extreme weather left many people out in the cold.

The federal government will be asked to keep Moss Park Armoury open as a relief centre until April 15.

The council vote also means the Ministry of Health will be asked to review adequate health services, including mental health and other supports, in the homeless shelters.

The majority of those in shelters experience mental illness or addiction, sometimes both, said Toronto Mayor John Tory.

“While they’re grateful for the shelters, they are also saddened and frustrated by the fact that their illnesses cannot properly be treated in a shelter,” Tory said during a pre-council new conference Wednesday morning.

Tory: “They are saddened and frustrated by the fact that their illnesses cannot properly be treated in a shelter.”
Mayor John Tory said he is confident the council will vote to fund 1,000 new permanent shelter beds. (RSJ/Denise Paglinawan)

New shelter beds to be added

The city is also looking to add 1,000 new permanent shelter beds over three years, which Tory is confident the city council will find funding for during the budget meeting on Feb. 12 and 13.

“This is something we simply must move forward with as we address the affordable and supportive housing shortage,” said Tory.

The mayor said the added shelter beds will offer people better housing conditions than the current shelter system.

“We’ve done our best to make sure that no one was denied shelter but at the same time, I don’t think anybody, including me, would argue that those circumstances have been ideal,” he said.

Thousands still await permanent housing

About 180,000 people are on the waiting list for permanent social housing in Toronto while 13,700 are on the waiting list for provincial supportive housing, said Paul Raftis, general manager of the city’s shelter, support and housing administration.

Coun. Joe Cressy asked whether the 90 per cent target to give shelter to homeless people was reached this year and Raftis responded no.

“If the test of a city is how well we care for the most vulnerable, on the matter of housing and shelter, I think it is fair to say that as a city, as a province and as a country, we are failing,” Cressy said.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam warned that the city has not done enough to respond to the issue.

“This is a crisis. This is an emergency,” she said.

© Denise Paglinawan 2020

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