Solutions to Homelessness Require Community Engagement
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Solutions to Homelessness Require Community Engagement

Meanwhile, seven more names were added to Toronto's homeless memorial April 11.

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Photo via Cathy Crowe’s petition update, demanding Mayor John Tory open the armouries for shelter.

A new report suggests that the city has to change public perception of the homeless population in order to provide better, co-located facilities.

The report by a Toronto facilitator, titled “Engaging Communities in First Step Housing and Services,” was commissioned by the City’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration division and suggests changing the language traditionally used to address the city’s shelters and homeless population. Replacing words like “the homeless” with people’s names, and “shelter” with “First Step Housing and Services” can reduce the stigma associated with Toronto’s growing homeless population, according to the report.

“An additional component of the need to change the conversation, is the need to educate Torontonians about poverty, housing prices, addiction and mental illness,” said Bruce Davis, the project facilitator, in the report.

Throughout this past winter, the occupancy rate for shelters was consistently above 90 per cent, often operating at maximum capacity. Overcrowding at shelters led to other programs, such as Out of the Cold, warming centres, and 24-hour drop-ins, which have also become overcrowded. This can lead to health issues, as demonstrated by the Strep A outbreak at Seaton House, which started a year ago and is still an ongoing issue.

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“Unless we make investments right along the spectrum, from investments to front-line staff to more beds to permanent affordable housing, unless we make those critical investments people are going to continue to struggle and it’s going to get worse,” said Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina).

An example of the ways the city is pushing towards smaller scale developments is the redevelopment of Seaton House in Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale, which is integrated with wrap-around services and housing options, according to the report. Another example is Toronto’s Red Door Family Shelter in Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth. The shelter was integrated into the design of a new condominium development in 2015, a new model for development at the time, and referenced in Davis’s report.

Another example is the Waterworks revitalization planned in Ward 20, which would include a new residential condo, new community centre, a YMCA, and Eva’s Phoenix, transitional housing for youth.

“There’s an example of how you build a complete community. The complete community is one where people of mixed income live together and support each other,” said Cressy.

“Housing needs to be integrated with services, the facility needs to be integrated with other facilities, and the entire enterprise of housing and supporting our most vulnerable residents needs to be integrated into the community, not at odds with it,” Davis wrote in the report.

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The Toronto ombudsman is currently investigating the City’s winter shelter response, according to Cathy Crowe, a Toronto street nurse. She has been pushing to have the armouries opened up to the homeless during cold weather. In this Metro Morning interview, she mentioned a drop-in centre that can only be accessed by referral, St. Lawrence Community Centre warming centre. She says this system contributed to the death of a homeless man in February.

“I described it as the collision of the homeless emergency, shelter emergency, and the opiate overdose emergency manifesting itself in one individual,” Crowe said.

A request to speak with a representative from the ombudsman’s office was denied until a final report is released.

According to the shelters and homelessness report there is also a monetary advantage to this new framework: “Added together, the cost of shelters, police checks on individuals sleeping outside, overnight hospital stays and correctional institution stays for people without permanent accommodation amounted to $421,386 per night in Toronto versus social housing costs of $34,512 per night to accommodate the same number of people.”