Toronto homelessness emergency

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."

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."

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:

  • City Council affirm its commitment to complying with its obligations under International Human Rights Law to take all appropriate measures to address homelessness as an human rights crisis.
  • City Council declare homelessness a human rights disaster akin to a Municipal Emergency or a national emergency and an urgent human rights crisis, and seek assistance from the Province under the Emergency Response and Civil Protection Act.
  • City Council request the Provincial government to apply to the Federal Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and alert the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and his Parliamentary Secretary, to seek the establishment of an intergovernmental table with participation of those affected and their representatives tasked with addressing the housing and homelessness crisis in Toronto, and in any other similarly affected municipalities throughout Ontario.
  • City Council convene an emergency meeting with representatives of the federal government including the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister, the Provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and persons who are homeless and precariously housed in Toronto and their representatives to develop an urgent plan of action.
  • City Council request the Office of Emergency Management take immediate steps to augment services for homeless individuals and seek the support of the Red Cross in managing the harm inflicted by the housing and homelessness crisis.

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."

Lead photo by

Jeremy Gilbert

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