womens shelter toronto

More shelter space for women and LGBTQ youth coming to Toronto

Community activists have been pleading for more shelters for some of the city's more vulnerable women and LGBTQ youth for years. Now, it looks like that's finally going to happen: The city's proposed 2015 budget includes funding for two women's all-night drop-in centres, as well as funding for two shelters for the city's LGBTQ youth.

There will be one drop-in centre in the east end and one in the west -- ditto for the shelters.

This comes after a decision made last week to provide 90 emergency shelter beds in some of the city's motels. Councillor Joe Mihevc has been stressing the importance of creating more shelter space in the city after two homeless people died in the cold a week and a half ago. He explains that the drop-in will be open 24-hours per day, and its purpose is for women who live and work on the street to "drop in, warm up, hang out and get a little bit of food."

He said there might be a few beds, but that isn't the purpose of the space, and it won't be quiet in the middle of the night--it's more likely to be active. The point is to provide a safe space for women who are homeless, and those who use drugs, or do street-based sex work.

The LGBTQ spaces, on the other hand, will be traditional shelters where homeless LGBTQ youth will find food and a warm place to sleep. Activists have been calling for a shelter of this sort for years, as well, after it was found that one in five of the city's homeless youth identified as LGBTQ.

Mihevc says the drop-in spaces won't open until March at the earliest, because the funding first needs to be approved by the city's budget committee. Depending on the resulting RFPs, one could open at the end of March, and the other would likely be open a couple of months later. The LGBTQ shelters are likely to open in the summer.

"A woman involved in the drug trade was [sexually] assaulted on the steps of a social service agency. That provided the impetus for us to say 'We've got to fix this,'" Mihevc says. "Women needed a safe place where everyone would know you can come hang out."

I ask Mihevc if he has rough numbers of women using shelter facilities. He says he used to receive that information, but no longer does. According to the city's website, though, 586 women used the city's women's shelters last night, meaning they were at 97 per cent capacity.

Also true: There are 13 women's shelters in the city. A 2007 study of 97 homeless women in Toronto found that 50 per cent had been unable to find shelter bed at least one in the past year, and that 43 per cent go hungry at least one day per week. We know that homelessness in our city is growing: 3,700 people use facilities for the homeless each night--or 30,000 annually.

We also know that, over the past seven years, there has been a steady 7 per cent increase in women's homelessness. And, according to the Wellesley Institute, homelessness is growing six times faster than the city's population at large. The YWCA's Beatrice House alone houses 378 women and children per year, and provide services to about 11,000, and Nellie's, which has 36 beds, provided services to 700 women, and served over 40,000 meals to women and children last year.

While the numbers are high and climbing higher, Mihevc adds that, at least week's community development and recreation committee, staff decided to operate by the 90 per cent rule, which means that no shelter's capacity will exceed 90 per cent. Sometimes, he explains, people will reserve a spot and not show up, and so if capacity reaches 91 or 92 per cent, the shelter ends up having to turn people away from its doors.

'We've been breaking that rule for a long time--for the past two years. And that's not healthy."

As far as Mihevc is concerned, these added drop-in facilities, combined with the shelter provided for LGBTQ youth, will meet the city's needs for the time being.

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