Toronto’s plan to open two new temporary shelters outside the downtown core could leave homeless people no other option but to sleep in parks and the streets, anti-poverty activists say.
Citing “unprecedented demand” for shelters, city officials announced Wednesday that they will open two new 24-hour respite sites to replace two downtown facilities that are scheduled to close later this spring. Eight other 24-hour respite sites will stay open past the normal scheduled closing date of April 15.
The new sites are in hockey arenas located at 1030 Don Mills Road and 4100 Dundas Street West, about an hour by public transit from the sites they are replacing in the Annex and in Exhibition Place.
Yogi Acharya, a spokesman for the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, said the new sites are too far from the downtown core to help those who need a place to sleep.
“Many will be forced to revert to sleeping in ravines, under bridges and in the street. In fact, we’re already hearing from many people who are going to do that,” says Mr. Acharya.
Patricia Anderson, the manager of partnership and community outreach with the city’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, says that the new respite sites are accessible by public transit. She added that, in cases where the new sites are the only locations with open beds, the city “would certainly be doing our best to make sure people have a way to get to them.”
As the city gears up to open the new respite sites in May, another 24-hour site located downtown on Dundas Street East will be downsizing from a capacity of 110 people to 50 on Sunday.
With each of the two new respite sites adding 100 spaces, the city’s plan will make 622 beds available. However, Mr. Acharya said it won’t be enough: “Even a month ago we had over 700 people staying nightly in the respite sites. Some nights that number was even closer to 800.”
Ms. Anderson said that the city is working with people using the Dundas Street East location to find them a shelter bed. She said that there is space available at other respite sites in the downtown core.
“I’m not optimistic,” says Cathy Crowe, a street nurse who provides services to the homeless in Toronto. Once people are at the respite sites, Ms. Crowe said, “they’ll have to use transit for every time they have to go downtown.” That’s too expensive for many of the city’s homeless.
City councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says the city needs to work out a way to get people from the downtown core to these sites.
“Is it a matter of providing TTC tokens? Is it a matter of renting buses to help shuttle people back downtown when they need to come in for medical appointments, or perhaps to meet their social worker or what have you? That information is not clear as of yet.”
She said these respite sites are a temporary response to a serious issue. “What we need at the end of the day is permanent, affordable housing.”