“Last winter, just up the street from here, someone froze to death — in a city as wealthy as Toronto, we should be ashamed that that happened,” said Lorraine Lam, a member of the Shelter Housing Justice Network, to a crowd of about 200 people yesterday at David Crombie Park.
Lam and several other members of SHJN, a network made up of housing advocates like of shelter workers, volunteers and shelter residents, organized speakers and musicians for an afternoon of housing awareness and education for National Housing Day.
It was an oddly warm and sunny November day, but the anticipation of colder months ahead was the main worry for Lam and other houseless speakers and advocates. Chris, a resident of the Novotel Shelter-Hotel, spoke to the crowd about the Novotel closing in early December.
Chris said that at the beginning of November, Novotel staff told residents they would have until December 31 to vacate, but a week-and-a-half ago residents were told they had to leave by December 6. Chris feels that the city’s plan is to “cram us into other shelters.”
“I really don't want to go to another shelter,” Chris said to the crowd. “I'm trying to recover from opiates and it's really hard to do that in the shelter spaces they're offering us.”
When asked what he’ll do if he doesn’t find housing, Chris said he’ll probably set up a tent. “I thought we were going to get housed before these hotels closed. I thought that was the whole idea of opening them. I've been in more than one hotel program and I've not been offered housing.”
Lam said about 180 people are trying to access the shelter system every night who are turned away because of a lack of shelter beds. “And that doesn't account for all of the people we know who don't even bother calling because they know that there are no beds and they don't want to wait on hold for two hours to be told nothing.”
Gregory Cook has worked as an outreach worker at Sanctuary, a drop-in shelter on Charles St. and Yonge St., since 2009.
“I’m here today partly to celebrate community and celebrate working together to demand that everybody in the city get housing that they can afford.”
When asked how he’s seen the housing situation change over the last few years, Cook said he’s seen the City’s funding of the “infrastructure of displacement” grow immensely.
“Whether that’s funding the police, whether that's having bylaw officers who demand people take their tents down, whether that’s building fencing in public parks, or whether that's the task force that’s been created to make sure the city efficiently destroys people’s belongings and temporary housing. It just keeps getting worse.”
Lam listed several “life or death” demands for the federal, provincial and municipal governments to implement immediately that SHJN believes will substantially impact the housing crisis in Toronto.
SHJN Housing Demands:
- Implement a national housing program immediately.
- Fund housing for Indigenous people as a concrete step towards reconciliation.
- Fund a rapid housing initiative for the next five years to allow the City of Toronto to purchase and expropriate property in order to build social housing.
- Provide funding to keep the City of Toronto shelter programs open.
- Increase ODSP and OW rates.
- Fund shelters for survivors of gender-based violence to provide space for everyone who is fleeing violence.
- Immediate investment in supportive, transitional and long-term affordable housing to address the bottleneck faced by shelters.
- Stop encampment evictions.
- Stop criminalizing people who are poor and who are sleeping outside.
- Stop spending millions of dollars on private security to patrol parks.
- Ends the planned closure of shelter hotels which will displace hundreds of shelter hotel residents
- Adds an additional 2700 non-congregate spaces to the shelter system.