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City Council Votes to Increase Homeless Shelter Capacity

Councillors want to see shelter occupancy kept at or below 90 per cent.

Photo by pkennethv, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Photo by pkennethv, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

City councillors have overwhelmingly endorsed a plan to add more capacity to Toronto’s homeless shelter system.

With a 40-1 vote earlier today—Mayor Rob Ford was the only one opposed—council endorsed a motion by Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s) to keep shelter occupancy at or below 90 per cent. (The rate has hovered at 96 per cent in recent months.) The plan also calls for an independent review of shelter intake practices, and a client survey on shelter access and conditions.

For several months, housing advocates across Toronto have warned of overcrowding and poor access at City shelters, citing an increase in the number of homeless deaths. Council seemed to agree that, despite reassurances from City staff that bed supply is meeting demand, the current occupancy levels are too tight.

Mihevc told reporters that staff at the City’s Shelter, Support, and Housing Administration can now open new facilities, if necessary, to make extra room for those who need it. This goes further than Mihevc’s original proposal, which asked only for existing “flex beds” to be opened up.

Yesterday the former budget chief, Mike Del Grande (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt) expressed concerns about an occupancy rate of 90 per cent, saying that in his mind that was just an indication of an inefficient system. Why, he said, should the City pay for beds that aren’t used? Today Mihevc argued that that extra capacity is necessary to serve as a buffer, to accommodate the vagaries of a system with dozens of shelters, and people with various needs who need to access the system in all parts of the city. “There will be enough flex in the system to deal honourably with people who need a bed,” he told reporters after the vote.

Councillor Jaye Robinson (Ward 25, Don Valley West), who chairs the community development and recreation committee that oversees this file, thanked housing advocates for stepping forward with their concerns about bed shortages. “There is a gap, and we need to address it,” she said. Other politicians, including Mayor Ford, had suggested in recent weeks that advocates were exaggerating problems with shelter access.


OCAP Demonstrators Turn Metro Hall Into a Makeshift Homeless Shelter

Ontario Coalition Against Poverty organizer John Clarke described the vote as a big victory for those currently struggling to access emergency shelter. “It wasn’t a long time ago that we were being told the shelters are working just wonderfully,” said Clarke. “We have the basis now for at least taking the pressure off the system.”

OCAP organizer Liisa Schofield said the group’s direct advocacy, including sit-ins at City Hall and Metro Hall, was key in pressuring council to act. “Sustained action on the part of advocates across the city has worked,” said Schofield. She also said Ford’s public condemnation of OCAP was a smokescreen to avoid action. “It was obviously a distraction and an attempt to not have to answer for folks dying on the streets.”

The key element in today’s decision, Mihevc emphasized, is that it establishes an occupancy rate rather than a specific number of beds: the goal isn’t to be wedded to a fixed number of spots in the system, but to ensure that the system has the capacity to meet changing needs at any point in time.

A report on the state of the shelter system is expected later this year.


  • iSkyscraper

    Never mind all of his other shenanigans, how can Ford always vote against the rest of the city and still be seen as some sort of common-man hero? The guy is an idiot.

    • dsmithhfx

      Let them eat hamburgers.

      • kroberts

        lol! clever ;)

  • Plannergrl1

    Councillor Del Grande says the city shouldn’t pay for beds that are empty. But the city does not pay for empty beds. It pays community organizations that operate shelters on a per diem basis, a dollar amount for each bed that’s occupied each night.

    • OgtheDim

      Yes and no.

      The community organizations know they have to cover costs for all beds, used or not. So, they have worked that cost into the discussions with the city as to how much to pay per diem.

      In theory, under the understanding that 100% capacity is the most expensive cost per bed, you could build in a mechanism that gives the community organizations less per bed for any amount under 100%.

      To me, that would be a more effective use of resources.

  • walrusaurus

    “Mayor Ford was the only one opposed.” Of course he was. Presumably he was also the only one drunk.

  • rich1299

    It’d be a far better thing to work to keep people from becoming homeless than to provide beds for them when they are. Of course there’s not much the city can do about that itself and the province and feds don’t seem to care as the province has recently cut a program that kept myself from becoming homeless at one time.

    Welfare rates need to recognize there are vast differences in housing costs across the province, the approx. $350 or so they allow for housing per month may get someone a room in the cheapest city for housing in the province but it won’t in most cities and certainly not in Toronto.

    I don’t see why it should be so hard to adjust the housing portion of welfare based on the city where the person lives. Its not like people who fall on welfare can just leave the social and family support systems upon which they rely for survival to move somewhere housing might be cheaper especially when they often can’t even afford the TTC let alone to move themselves to a totally different city.

    We also need vastly more affordable housing, again the province and feds couldn’t care less about such “trivial” matters as affordable housing, the Harper Cons recently decided we can’t afford to even look at options for increasing affordable housing yet they constantly spend our tax money promoting themselves and have endless amounts to build permanent military bases around the world and billions for their ideologically driven crime bills which evidence from other jurisdictions who went that route has shown they will almost certainly increase our crime rate instead of lowering it. I guess that’s the Cons affordable housing plan, except prisons certainly aren’t affordable.

    Most of all we need the end of politicians who believe gov’ts only exist for the benefit of corporations and not for the benefit of actual citizens. The Harper Cons oppose any and all social programs while subsidizing profitable corporations with our tax money. I guess they don’t realize the military and prisons are the biggest most expensive social programs going, but they harm people instead of helping them so I guess that’s okay with them. Crime reduction programs work as seen in Quebec and at a tiny fraction of the cost of policing and prisons, but again its a social program that actually helps people while corporations profit off increased spending on police, prisons and the military.

    It’d also cost far less to keep people from becoming homeless than to provide minimal care for them when they are, but in Con logic citizens must suffer as much as possible before they’re allowed help.

  • pinky8888

    But hey, the homeless can always go to city hall and make themselves a warm cosy bed out of Hero hamburger buns …

  • xiula528