Housing is a basic human right. However, our city shelters are regularly at 96%+ capacity, well over the 90%+ capacity target set by City Council. In heat or freezing temperatures, this is stretched even further.
The living conditions are also often reprehensible. One of the largest city shelters has battled outbreaks of influenza and strep. These are killing diseases among those living on the street. Bed bugs, lice, and random violence also increase the stress and risk of using our shelters. The Street Health Surveys and other research have shown the human cost of this system.
The lack of capacity in our system also means that we are unable to respond when needed, whether by a change in weather, a fire, or some other unplanned shift. Faith institutions have responded to this gap by offering Out of the Cold. It is a bandaid which can save lives but it does not get to the systemic roots of homelessness, such as poverty, mental health and addiction, racism, gentrification and housing affordability. If we are going to halt the premature deaths of so many of our city's residents, we need bigger picture thinking.
As Canada's largest city, and as a caring one, we need to be able to respond to people's need, providing them with dignified lodgings. But this is not just a feel-good issue. Preventing homelessness saves us all money. Over the past two decades, people from Malcolm Gladwell and his Million Dollar Murray to federal research projects and even police departments in B.C. have worked to quantify these costs. Chez Soi found that when someone is homeless in Toronto, it costs the system $59,000. We can house and feed someone for less than it costs for them to be on the street.
The new federal Housing Strategy offers municipalities the opportunity to access funding, to target funding, and to build a strong evidence base for why these investments are good ones.
So we should expect more than hand-wringing or stop-gap measures. We need a City Councillor ready to act at the system level and focused on solutions.
If elected, I commit to:
- advocate for permanent solutions to homelessness, using Housing First, transitional housing and supportive housing where appropriate to individuals
- in the interim, push for an expansion and enhancement of our current shelter system, both the numbers of beds available through emergency response,and the standards within current shelters, and the number of shelters available, especially for youth, women and other targeted populations
- prioritize repairs on Toronto Community Housing buildings as the stock continues to deteriorate without timely intervention
- introduce requirements that property developers replace the continuing loss of deeply affordable units as residential hotels and rooming houses continue to be sold in a rising real estate market
- work with the Affordable Housing Office and CreateTO to ensure our public land developments include provisions for affordable housing, both rental and ownership, as defined by median incomes, not the market