Housing advocates and shelter users demand more facilities and funding for Toronto's emergency shelters.
Protesters, led by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, have occupied the lobby outside Mayor Rob Ford’s office. They are demanding that City staff use contingency funds and public facilities to boost Toronto’s emergency shelter capacity. About 40 protesters have set out blankets, protest banners, and musical instruments, to represent a makeshift shelter. They say they plan to stay until they get an acknowledgment from councillors or City officials that shelters are over capacity.
For weeks, housing advocates have been decrying deaths of homeless individuals and criticizing officials for providing what they say are misleading figures on shelter capacity. Despite claims from several organizations that they cannot secure beds for their clients, however, staff with Shelter Support and Housing insist shelter beds are available.
OCAP organizer John Clarke told us he’s been in contact with several councillors, but so far none have agreed to address those gathered just outside their offices on the second floor of City Hall. “I do appreciate that we’ve just shown up,” Clarke told us, “but this is not a trivial matter. You’d think by now that some token voice of social conscience would have put in a phone call.”
A staff person from Mayor Ford’s office stepped out and briefly addressed the crowd. “If you have a message, I’m happy to convey it on your behalf,” she said, noting that the mayor was “out in the the community attending events.” (He was at the auto show when the sit-in began; he later went to the national blind hockey tournament.) Clarke replied that the City should immediately release $3 million in shelter contingency funds and open up additional beds for the homeless.
Clarke has also asked that councillors and police not to disrupt the peaceful protest. Security officials have told the group the building is open to the public until 9:30 p.m.
Zoë Dodd of AIDS Action Now told us she is frustrated that many councillors haven’t spoken out on cuts to shelter and housing services in the recently-passed 2013 budget. “It’s really hard to advocate to the province [for more shelter resources] when the City is in denial about the crisis,” she says, adding, “Some of the people dying are really well known to us, to the community.”
At time of publication we were unable to reach any councillors at City Hall for comment.