Toronto still struggling to deal with homeless crisis
Toronto is suffering from a homeless crisis, and it is going to worsen if left unaddressed.
Peggy Byrne, a communications representative at the City of Toronto, said that shelters are struggling to keep up with the amount of people who need them.
“Despite significantly increasing shelter capacity and investments in homeless services, shelter occupancy remains at capacity,” said Byrne. “Demand for services continues to rise, driven by low vacancy rates, increasingly scarce affordable housing, and increasing numbers of refugee claimants.”
Cathy Crowe, a street nurse, called on Toronto Mayor John Tory to declare a state of emergency on homelessness after the recent death of a man in a city parking lot. Crowe said that Tory has not taken significant actions to address homelessness.
The Toronto Homeless Memorial Network said that 17 homeless people have died in Toronto since the beginning of October 2019.
The City of Toronto said that the average occupancy rate in shelters was 95 per cent on Dec. 30.
RBC said that Toronto’s low vacancy rate has caused rents to become unaffordable. Raising the vacancy rate will be arduous because of the large amount of immigrants coming to Toronto and the increasing proportion of renter households.
PadMapper says that Toronto continues to remain one of the most expensive cities to rent in Canada. The average price of a one bedroom rental in Toronto in December 2019 was $2,300 per month, which demonstrates housing is unaffordable for many.
The influx of refugees and asylum seekers coming to Toronto have overwhelmed the shelter system. The City of Toronto said that there were 2,357 refugees or asylum seekers in Toronto shelters in October 2019. There were 6,609 people using shelters in October 2019, which means about 35.7 percent of them were refugees or asylum seekers.
Byrne said that the homelessness crisis shows no signs of stopping soon.
“Homelessness is an extremely complex issue,” said Byrne. “The City of Toronto continues to experience unprecedented demand for emergency shelter.”
Jon Dziadyk is the Ward 3 Councillor for Edmonton.
No one moves to Edmonton for the weather, and we used to have record unemployment. We now have a substantial homeless population and that tells me that many currently experiencing extreme hardship were once bundled up, cozy, in an Edmonton home. Times have changed. Likely, in years past, they were productive members of society: sleeping in their own bed and working in the morning. Various government policies, economic cycles, bad luck, bad choices, addictions and/or mental illness may have led to their downfall. A government needs to be compassionate and utilize common sense: enter the municipal response to those shivering on the streets during our latest deep freeze. I am disappointed in what is happening in light of what could happen. The goal of any homelessness policy should be to rehabilitate with dignity. The solutions should be practical, modern, and not complicated.
Last year I successfully advocated that our LRT stations should be open during our coldest nights to much opposition. This year, despite my efforts, as a City Councillor, our homeless are out of luck.
Picture this: a public, heated, safe building sitting empty during a dark winter night has its doorway occupied by a homeless person aiming to capture a scrap of heat escaping from the mailslot. That is essentially what can be seen outside of a LRT station in Edmonton, and across the country. Our train stations close nightly and yet they are heated and designed to accommodate large volumes of people.
There are many problems with this picture, but there are two which I would like to address. The first is that there is nothing stopping this unused public space from being open overnight to allow our most vulnerable to sleep with a shed of dignity. The second problem is that—here in Edmonton—our dedicated homeless shelters are actually not full, even during the most severe winter storms. Why then are there homeless people in the doorways? What are our shelters doing wrong? If we cannot meet their basic needs, how will we rehabilitate them into society at large?
Let’s face it, governments everywhere fail at being efficient and adaptive. If a private entity had empty space that could be used for something else, you bet their bottom dollar they would find a use for it. Our LRT stations are closed for several hours every night and are not being used for what could be a lifesaving service. Sleeping outside in our winter city can be fatal at 5 below, let alone in negative 30 temperatures.
In 2009, Edmonton put forward a plan to end homelessness. Given that we are having this conversation regarding our homeless population a decade on, we have not succeeded. At what point do we reevaluate our efforts? We can alleviate the suffering of those experiencing homelessness by opening our warm public doors for a few hours until a permanent and sensitive solution is found.
I view the opening of our unused LRT stations during the night as a Band-Aid for the deeper problem. The real issue is why are our services for the most vulnerable being left largely unused? Are the services not being utilized because those who need them are not aware they exist? Can they not access them? Is the lack of co-ed sleeping quarters deterring them? In this woke era of safe injection site acceptance, are the conduct policies at shelters too strict? We need answers to these questions to find out why we have exterior doorways occupied and beds empty. For whatever reason, segments of the homeless population will not go into our homeless shelters. So it’s incumbent upon the city to modernize our services.
In rebuff to the LRT proposal, and in response to concerns raised about our homeless predicament, the City will now be opening a portion of a recreation centre just outside of the downtown core during extreme cold spells. This checks the dignity box but misses the point.
Their opposition to the LRT station use is that transit staff are not trained to deal with the homeless population and, when it was tried before, there were a few fist fights and spills of bodily fluid. I would counter and say that, obviously, transit staff should not be involved and that the referenced problems will occur anywhere this population congregates. The rec center is fancy but analogous to the LRT station except that it is not located where the homeless population actually is. Whatever arguments are used against the train station could be the same ones used against the rec centre idea. I fear that the homeless will not travel to the supposedly well thought out alternative.
As a City Councillor I sometimes fear that we look for complicated solutions versus utilization of the obvious assets. We justify spending more money because we want to congratulate ourselves on the solutions and the process of how we got to those solutions. Something as simple as hiring security to open the LRT gate is just a little too uneventful.
To the readers from the rest of Canada, many of our homeless are former energy workers. The Alberta economy is hurting and meaningful employment is the key to the recovery. Government policies that have hurt our industries have been the start of the problem. Let’s not have local paternalistic government policies perpetuate the problem or it will become a crisis.
A new year has arrived, and people might be looking to make New Year’s resolutions. One New Year’s resolution that is popular is to give more to charity.
People might intend on giving more charity to feel more generous. People might think that they need to send money to fight malaria in Mali or sponsor a Syrian refugee to be charitable, but they do not have to look far if they want to help the less fortunate.
There are more and more people living on the streets in major cities across Canada. Canadians should be looking to solve this problem before they try to solve the world’s problems.
Raising the Roof estimates that 35,000 Canadians experience homelessness on any given night. An estimated 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness each year.
Homeless people need to be humanized because they are regular people who have fallen on tough times.
Consider Blair Wall, a homeless person in Toronto.
Wall used to live in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L. About two years ago, Wall was called by his cousin, telling him that there was a place to stay and a job for him in Toronto.
“I hitchhiked 2,400 kilometres and came to no place to stay and no job,” he said.
He said that it is tough living on the streets. He avoids using the Toronto shelter system.
“It’s absolutely horrible,” he said. “There’s no security for your things. There’s a lot of drugs within the shelter system, and people are stealing all of the time.”
Helping homeless people will allow them to feel less marginalized. People end up homeless because of poverty, unemployment, family violence, or other, various reasons. People with mental illnesses are disproportionately affected by homelessness.
Consider Jason Serroul, a former homeless person in Toronto.
Serroul has been living on and off the streets for 17 years because of mental illness.
“I can actually count the number of times on both hands how many times I’ve slept inside and watched TV in 10 years,” said Serroul.
He recently found an apartment to stay in.
“I think that any place should try to do what they can to help the homeless,” he said. “Every single person in that situation, needing to utilize the facilities of the community and the government, should be able to.”
Rather than walk past homeless people, Canadians should acknowledge their presence. Canadians should stop and give homeless people a few coins or any extra food they might have.
If Canadians want to be more generous than that, they can donate to charities who are committed to helping homeless people or volunteer their time at a soup kitchen.
Canadians could go further by writing letters to politicians about this issue. They can ask politicians to commit to improving conditions in homeless shelters or to divert some of the more than $6 billion spent on foreign aid to ending homelessness in Canada.
Charity begins at home. Canadians should look at what is wrong with their countrymen and countrywoman and ask themselves what they can do to help.
Two weeks ago CBC’s The National aired a report on the homeless crisis in Toronto, where the shelter system is currently overwhelmed with people needing a place to stay during the harsh winter nights, with many being turned away because of lack of beds at many locations. The CBC story failed to include any mention of the thousands of refugee claimants who have illegally entered Canada from the U.S. border and sought shelter in Toronto over the past few years that is the major factor in the system being overloaded.
The CBC then repackaged the story and published it on Boxing Day. The story with the major omission became the most popular story on CBC’s website by Thursday afternoon, misinforming the public.
“It’s early morning in Toronto—the biggest, richest city in the country. People go about their business. But there’s a crisis here that most people don’t really want to see. There are more homeless people in Toronto than ever before. And the thing is, do we even notice them anymore? Do we care?” asks CBC journalist Nick Purdon in the long eight-and-a-half-minute segment that doesn’t look at the added cost or demand of the homeless population in Toronto.
“People are dying. Eight homeless people have died in Toronto in the past two months, and winter is just getting started. And that’s why activists are here in front of City Hall demanding the City declare a state of emergency,” Purdon continues, not once mentioning throughout the story why there are more homeless people in Toronto—because there are tens of thousands of migrants coming across the border or entering Canadian airports and making refugee status claims over the past few years.
While doing investigative reporting for True North in the first part of 2019 on the Toronto homeless shelter system, I discovered that the many millions of dollars the City of Toronto spent on accommodations such as hotels, motels, other buildings and multimillion dollar tents were predominantly for refugee claimants, many of whom stay at these locations for six-month periods in order to be eligible for a housing allowance that lasts up to four years, even after finding a job. These types of accommodations are the better part of Toronto’s two-tier shelter system. Some of the older, rundown respite facilities (temporary homeless shelter buildings) and homeless shelters, like Seaton House, were scheduled to be decommissioned years ago but because of the in flux of migrants and the overall homeless population spiking in the past few years they’ve had their doors kept open indefinitely.
But none of this vital context to the homeless shelter system crisis is mentioned in the CBC reports that can only be described as journalistic negligence or malpractice.
“Kevin wants the City to create more shelter beds. The fact is, if you make minimum wage, or collect social assistance, it’s almost impossible to afford an apartment in Toronto nowadays. And so shelters are full,” CBC’s Purdon reported carelessly and unquestioningly.
Never mind that the City of Toronto has already spent tens of millions of more taxpayer dollars into expanding the shelter system over the past few years, or that Canada’s large immigration levels, the burgeoning Airbnb market, foreign homebuyers, government housing subsidies and the in flux of tens of thousands of refugee claimants all are affecting Toronto’s rising house and rent prices.
No, instead CBC journalists would rather show Canadian homeless people devoid of any of this context, say there’s a crisis, and then ask Canadians if they care, implying taxpayers should be doing more; Taxpayer-funded CBC journalist’s mission accomplished.
Credit, where credit is due, though. The CBC did take time to humanize several homeless men, people dehumanized daily by a public that often pretend they don’t exist. However, a journalist’s job is not to tell a story based solely upon emotions, devoid of the most pertinent facts,statistics and context on why this is happening.
Could it also be, despite CBC’s David Cochrane berating CPC MP Pierre Poilievre for suggesting it, that the Canadian economy isn’t all that healthy, so that’s also a partial contributing factor to the homelessness problem in Canada, too?
CBC’s own story on homelessness and the latest atrocious job numbers, despite massive deficit spending by Trudeau’s Liberals, are signs pointing to yes.
But CBC wants to have its poutine and eat it too.
In CBC’s world it’s rarely Liberal government incompetency that is the source of a problem, but stingy Canadians not paying enough money to fix said problem the Liberals did indeed cause.
“The thing is, when people talk about the homeless it’s often in terms of numbers and statistics like the ones above — but the issue really hits home when you meet the people,” wrote Purdon and another CBC journalist in Thursday’s viral piece.
I’ve met many of Toronto’s homeless, foreign and native, through my reporting. It’s definitely an eye-opening experience that is hard to report on because anyone with an ounce of a compassion ends up feeling for all of these people, but no problem is fixed without fully understanding the underlying context of an issue, which is a journalist’s job to understand and explain.
Euphemisms like “irregular border crossers” or CBC reports that gloss over the sources of a problem do nothing to inform the public or make things better. Instead, they allow for the disastrous status quo to go unchecked.
It’s a sad day for journalism when the top comments in the comment section (surprisingly not closed) explain the situation far better than the negligent reporters.
Seattle has a prolific homeless offenders problem—one made worse by a light on crime approach championed by progressive activists in elected office. The consequences have been dire: Innocent residents and visitors being physically assaulted by criminals with lengthy rap sheets, while the homeless, many dealing with addiction or mental health problems, remain on the streets.
The latest incident to bring attention to Seattle’s progressive leadership problem stems from a leaked video showing a topless dancer giving lap dances at a publicly-funded conference on homelessness last week. How anyone thought this was appropriate tells you how out of touch this city and county can be. However, before that, there was another incident that received much less attention.
Right before Thanksgiving, a homeless man with a lengthy criminal record randomly assaulted a defence attorney outside the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle. The suspect is Frank Hypolite and he has been arrested on the same block five other times.
As a consequence, presiding judge James Rogers issued an emergency declaration to close the entrance where these assaults keep occurring. After negotiations with the Seattle Police Department, the entrance was reopened this week. The police chief promised increased patrols. But this won’t make a dent in the problem.
Seattle doesn’t have a policing problem in this regard—even with dangerously low staffing numbers. The problem? Criminals don’t serve jail time.
Seattle’s activist city attorney, Pete Holmes, and the county’s prosecutor, Dan Satterberg, refuse to prosecute many crimes allegedly committed by the homeless. They say it lacks compassion to throw someone in jail if they’re dealing with untreated mental illness or addiction.
While there aren’t many voices asking to “criminalize the homeless”—the typical refrain from left-wing activists—there needs to be some consequences for violent behaviour. By releasing homeless criminals back onto the streets, not only are they failing to help get their issues treated, they’re also creating sitting ducks out of passers-by and visitors.
One prolific offender, Francisco Calderon, has an astounding 75 convictions for a variety of crimes, including a recent assault on a toddler. Calderon, who is dealing with mental illness according to his sister, threw a cup of coffee in the child’s face. However, a judge earned public condemnation from Holmes after daring to put Calderon in jail for punching a man in Seattle. This is compassion? Tell that to Calderon’s victims.
Then there is the public defecation. Businesses have recently cried out for help from the city as homeless use sidewalks and business entryways as toilets.
“I’m tired of the defecation, the urination, drug use, accosting customers,” hotel general manager Jeff Gouge of The Arctic Circle Seattle told KOMO-TV. Last week, security footage caught a homeless man defecating outside the window of the hotel restaurant.
“We had someone, just an hour ago, on the other side of the entrance urinate right on the side of the building,” Gouge told the station. “It’s happening too much.”
The problems go beyond the intersection of homelessness and mental illness. It’s also a drug problem.
King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg will not prosecute drug addicts or users caught with up to a gram of a controlled substance, though cops say it’s much more than that. As a result, not only have we seen an increase in overdose deaths, drug dealers roam free.
Speaking to the Washington Post, Satterberg declared he will vigorously prosecute drug dealers. Except it’s hard to prosecute drug dealers who are smart enough to evolve with the policy. Cops have repeatedly told me that dealers will carry fewer products. After they sell out of heroin or meth, they’ll go back to wherever they keep their stash, restock on the product, and go back to dealing. It’s a policy that was adopted in nearby Snohomish County. But after months of the policy failing, their prosecutor, Adam Cornell, announced he’s nixing it. And a new Sheriff was elected, primarily on a message of being tougher on crimes.
What’s worse, in all this, cops have lost any leverage they might have over a drug user they catch. Knowing they won’t be prosecuted, Seattle cops can’t leverage jail time to get information out of the user, to find out who is selling them their product. As a consequence, drug deals are done in the open, ironically impacting the area directly surrounding the King County Courthouse the most, and more users are staying addicted.
But we’re told, over and over again, that this is compassionate. That it’s the social-justice way of dealing with crime. Which, as it turns out, means not dealing with crime at all. Who exactly wins with this approach?
Jason Rantz (@jasonrantz) is a Seattle-based talk show host on KTTH 770 AM.