Taking Toronto’s Homeless Crisis to Mayor Tory’s Front Door
It's unknown if the mayor was home in his condo at the time.
Around 100 protesters, many of them from Toronto’s homeless community, spent the night outside John Tory’s condo at 1 Bedford Place on Saturday night, calling for immediate action to combat the homelessness crisis in Toronto. Demonstrators demand the creation of 300 shelter beds—something they say could easily be achieved by using Toronto’s military armouries, gyms, and other public spaces—and a long-term commitment to create over 1,000 new shelter beds.
The protest comes amidst a dual crisis of housing and homelessness response, says OCAP organizer Yogi Acharya. With the cost of housing in Toronto rising, more and more people are being forced to rely on shelters and community housing. At the same time, those systems are under tremendous strain in Toronto.
“Ninety homeless people have died in the past two years,” says Acharya. “That’s shameful, with the amount of wealth that exists in this city.”
Toronto’s capacity—or, as is becoming increasingly apparent, its willingness—to help its homeless population has come under deserved scrutiny. With shelters at 98 per cent capacity, Tory voted this past winter to cut funding to homeless shelters.
Recent cuts to Toronto’s shelter system are furthering the strain on an already strained system. According to OCAP, the City has been underspending from the Housing Stabilization Fun at an average of $3.5 million per year since 2013.
Their report, titled “Toronto Robs from the Poor,” was delivered to City Hall on Tuesday. In it, OCAP claims that the City has misallocated budget surpluses from the HSF, transferring around $10 million out of homelessness prevention and into the City’s general reserves. It further claims that another $8 million from the Housing Allowance Reserves is sitting in the bank with no plans to spend that money.
For its part, the City is claiming that it has no extra money for programs to combat the increasingly urgent homelessness crisis. In fact, it says, funding must be slashed.
Meanwhile, Tory has pled ignorance on the issue of the homelessness crisis. After a homeless man died in February, he promised an investigation into the cause of the death. Homelessness activists say that’s not enough.
“John Tory can’t claim he doesn’t know what’s happening,” says Acharya. “He knows, he just chooses not to act—because he’s beholden to the interests of urban developers.”
“He’s saying one thing out of one side of his mouth, and another thing out of the other,” said homelessness and immigration activist, Macdonald Scott.
Though police had, at one point, told the demonstrators that if they were to erect tents that they would begin arresting people, the demonstration remained a peaceful one. By 2 a.m., many of the protesters were still in the plaza sleeping, while police had left the area.
There were, at times, some disagreements. Scott, an activist who works regularly with undocumented individuals in the city, had to defend his focus on immigrants. One demonstrator took umbrage with his plea for funding to help immigrants—arguing, essentially, that efforts to combat homelessness should focus on those already here and/or here legally—interrupting his speech and then choosing to leave the protest.
This wasn’t a stray point, necessarily; some of the strain on the shelter system has come from newcomers to Canada. Last January, the number of refugees who accessed shelter services increased by 80 percent over the same period in 2016. In response, Tory appealed to the federal government, asking for more money—money that, apparently, he was unwilling to raise through traditional revenue generation tools.
Scott made this point quickly: “The problem isn’t with other homeless people,” he responded. “It’s the people living in these condos.”
Therein lies the central problem, as it relates partly to homelessness in Toronto: the issue runs far deeper than funding to the shelter system, activists say. The problem, at the core, is the upward mobility of wealth in a Toronto that many are seeing as increasingly apathetic to the concerns of the lower classes.
It is well beyond question, given the number of homeless deaths over the last two years, that immediate action—and long-term solutions—are necessary when it comes to both housing and homelessness. In the short term, the homeless shelter system needs an increase in funding so as to be able to run below 90 per cent capacity. In the longer-term, though, these are two problems which need to be tackled as one; it can no longer be an effective tack to approach homeless shelter funding as a reactive measure. Instead, it is important that Toronto politicians tackle these issues, moving forward, as one larger issue of housing in the city.