People are planning a memorial outside the Mayor's downtown luxury condo.
At the same time as Toronto councillors were debating a budget that many are calling harmful to the city’s most vulnerable, a homeless man died of a drug overdose soon after leaving a downtown shelter that was over capacity.
The 28-year-old homeless Indigenous man went to St. Felix Centre, one of the two 24-hour warming centres , at around 6 p.m. February 15, Toronto street nurse and homeless advocate Cathy Crowe told Torontoist.
“They were full, but invited him in for food. They offered to put him on the waiting list or send him to St. Lawrence Community Centre warming centre. That’s the one I call the ‘secret warming centre’ because doors are locked all night. It’s not advertised, or on the City website. I’ve been fighting with the City all winter on it,” Crowe says.
CityNews reports that the shelter was 10 people over capacity when the man arrived. He was offered a referral to another location, but declined.
After being turned away, the man suffered a fatal overdose in a nearby restaurant washroom. Police confirmed that the heroin the man had consumed was believed to be laced with the drug fentanyl, which has been connected to a surge of deaths among intravenous drug users.
“It is time for us to wake up to the fact that people are dying on our streets from overdoses and a lack of sufficient housing,” Councillor Joe Cressy told CityNews. “It shows our shelter system is over capacity today and we are really struggling.”
Cressy’s motion to save front-line shelter staff failed. City Council passed the 2017 budget, but not before accidentally unbalancing it, and voting to make up the shortfall with reserves.
Some councillors were quick to point out that $2 million was easily found to patch a hole of Council’s own creation (as a result of a last-minute vote to preserve street sweeping services), but not half as much to maintain service levels at homeless shelters across the city.
Scandalous. People have been begging for life-saving, enhancing programs to no avail. Then this? https://t.co/UkGh9zFheQ
— CathyCrowe (@cathyacrowe) February 16, 2017
— Sofi Papamarko (@sexytypewriter) February 16, 2017
A spokesperson from the mayor’s office described the recent death as a “tragic circumstance” and told the Star that Mayor Tory has been “very vocal about the dangers of fentanyl” and is working to reduce the impact of the deadly drug.
“City staff are investigating, and we will be asking for a full report once all the facts are known,” the spokesperson said.
Parkdale-High Park Councillor Gord Perks is calling the 2017 budget the most unfair he’s ever seen. “We’re literally taking money away from the poorest to keep property taxes low for people who are wealthy,” Perks told Now Magazine. “It’s reverse Robin Hood.”
Here is how councillors voted on maintaining shelter services: