Activists ask Toronto to declare homelessness a state of emergency
A newly-formed coalition of homelessness and shelter advocates are calling upon Mayor John Tory this week to declare a state of emergency in response to what's become a deadly shortage of shelter beds, affordable housing and mental health services in Toronto.
Led by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, the group came together at City Hall on Tuesday morning to ask not only for a state of emergency to be called, but that all three levels of government "step up and create an action plan to address homelessness."
"Three weeks into 2019, four residents living with homelessness have lost their lives," said Wong-Tam. "Our shelters are at capacity, pushing hundreds to our ravines and our bridges. We need a coordinated, intergovernmental effort to immediately address this gap."
We are calling on our colleagues at City Council to step up and create an action plan to address homelessness. We also need to ask our provincial and federal partners to come together and tackle this emergency holistically. #housingcrisis #topoli pic.twitter.com/DIHFFiS0KZ— Kristyn Wong-Tam (@kristynwongtam) January 22, 2019
Wong-Tam was joined by fellow councillors Josh Matlow and Gord Perks at the press conference this morning, as well Ontario NDP MPP Suze Morrison.
Also present was acclaimed street nurse and activist Cathy Crowe, a whole host of other frontline service workers, and representatives from groups such as Progress Toronto, The Interfaith Coalition to Fight Homelessness, The Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre and the Shelter and Housing Justice Network.
"In 2018, 181,000 people were on Toronto's Centralized Waiting List for housing," said Wong in an a letter from the group. "Applicants can wait a decade or more for a unit. The city's rental vacancy rate is an unhealthy 1.1%, with home sharing apps putting further pressure on our rental market."
Please sign the petition to have Toronto City Council declare the homelessness and housing crisis, a state of emergency, and to bring three governments together to develop an urgent + human rights based plan of action. https://t.co/Fk6owewKBv#HousingIsAHumanRight #HousingCrisis https://t.co/o61DwXDmG5— Kristyn Wong-Tam (@kristynwongtam) January 22, 2019
Over 720 people have already signed a petition on Wong-Tam's website containing the letter's text, along with five key reccomendations the group is asking City Council to support:
Good to join @kristynwongtam @gordperks @cathyacrowe @RafiInterfaith @SHJNetwork @cupelocal79 @progresstoronto this morning to call on City to declare homelessness an emergency. This crisis was created by govt and must be ended by govt...now. pic.twitter.com/YeQ62F88EP— Matthew Kellway (@MatthewKellway) January 22, 2019
Powerful suggestions, but it looks like at least one of them may take some convincing.
Tory reportedly told reporters later today that "an emergency declaration wouldn't make a difference," suggesting that better mental health care and housing resources are needed.
"That's where I'd rather see the advocacy," he said to the Toronto Star's David Rider.
"On average, two people die weekly because of homelessness in Toronto," wrote Wong-Tam on Twitter in response to Tory's comments Tuesday afternoon. "Thousands without housing and sleeping rough in alleyways, streets, shelters."
"Mayor is sadly wrong (again). Toronto has a homelessness + housing crisis," she continued. "This is happening whether he admits it or not."
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