Reports / Articles

October 2001

State of the Disaster - Update 2001

The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) issued the State of Emergency declaration in October 1998, declaring homelessness a national disaster.  We have articulated a political strategy to virtually eliminate homelessness, known as the One Percent Solution.  This proposal requires that all levels of government increase annual spending on housing by a mere 1% of their total respective budgets.  We continue to fight for this solution.  However, until such time as Canada has a national housing strategy, large cities like Toronto desperately need emergency, life saving measures to deal with their homelessness crises.

One year ago, the TDRC released “State of the Disaster:  Winter 2000,” which was a shocking indictment of Toronto’s shelter system, based on interviews with homeless people, shelter staff and front line workers.  Two serious problems were identified:  an approximately 1000 shelter bed shortfall; and an existing shelter system that is overcrowded, dangerous, and which in many cases does not meet United Nations standards for refugee camps. 

Now, as we approach another winter, the homelessness disaster in Toronto looks like this:  continuing high rates of infectious diseases, including TB, Hepatitis C and HIV; continued rampant and arbitrary barrings from shelters; the clearing out by police of homeless people from the downtown parks, to which they have been forced, because shelters are full; a population explosion of homeless people living in makeshift encampments and shanty towns.  This year, instead of trying to move indoors for the winter, many people are trying to prepare their shacks and tents to withstand the winter weather.  They know that it will be virtually impossible to find safe shelter in the system. 

Since our last State of the Disaster report in October 2000, we have recorded the deaths of 39 more homeless people.  At the end of September, yet another of those deaths was the brutal homicide of Bill West, a homeless man who had no safe place to live.  This report evaluates the progress made by the City of Toronto in dealing with its homelessness disaster over the past year   It is a shameful litany of denial and inaction.  We reiterate our call for these recommendations to be  implemented immediately.  

1)  Order a moratorium on shelter closures for the duration of the disaster  NOT SUPPORTED.

2)  Open four dormitory style facilities, which should be run by an aid organization such as the Red Cross, as emergency shelter/warming centers.  These facilities should be able to accommodate up to 150 men, women and couples, and should be available for the duration of the disaster.  NOT SUPPORTED.

3)  Open a number of appropriate shelter facilities (for example, which are smaller, more private, with increased supports on site) to meet the needs of women, people with disabilities, aboriginal people, youth, people with serious addictions or health/mental health problems, and people living with AIDS,  to make up the remaining 400 beds required.  Included in these beds should be at least one “wet hostel” for women and other harm reduction facilities to meet the needs of people in the above groups with addictions.  NOT SUPPORTED.  City Council approved 1000 more beds over 3 years.  These beds were cancelled during the budget approval process. 

4)  Ensure that the above facilities and existing facilities meet the United Nations Standards for refugee camps as well as established North American disaster relief standards.  For example, an adequate number of toilets must be accessible; beds or cots versus mats on the floor must be provided; adequate space allocation must be provided; food provided must meet nutritional needs; health services should be provided on site.  UNITED NATIONS STANDARDS NOT MET IN MANY SHELTERS.

5)  Ensure that the above facilities and existing facilities operate from a harm reduction philosophy.  There must be adequate staffing levels and adequate staff training with respect to mental health issues, harm reduction and crisis de-escalation to ensure both safety and the meeting of standards.  THERE ARE STILL VERY FEW HARM REDUCTION BEDS IN THE SYSTEM.

6)  Direct the Manager of Hostel Services to develop a policy on barrings for all city-funded shelters.  In particular, barring must be reserved for extreme cases of violence and, in the event that someone is barred, alternate shelter must be found.  The policy must include a consistent barring protocol and clear appeal process and should be posted in every shelter.  NOT DONE.  A review of Hostel Standards, including barring, will not be completed until spring 2002 at the earliest.

7)  Direct the Medical Officer of Health to carry out a special investigation of health standards in the shelter system to ensure that they meet international public health standards.  If necessary, Hostel Services must fund any identified deficiencies.    NOT DONE.  The Public Health Department will participate in the Hostel Standards review; will not be completed until spring 2002.  

8)  Direct the General Manager of Social Services to develop a policy to ensure that all people using the shelter system, including the Out of the Cold Program, have access to the
Personal Needs Allowance stipend.   NOT DONE.  Shelter, Housing and Support Division to review the benefits provided and report to Community Services Committee fall of 2001. 

9)  Develop a voucher system so that, until such time as sufficient shelter space is made available, homeless people can be sheltered in motels or hotels.  NOT SUPPORTED.

10)   Direct the Medical Officer of Health to develop and implement a strategy for ensuring sufficient access for homeless people to public toilets.  NO STRATEGY MADE PUBLIC NOR IMPLEMENTED. 


Mike Laracy
Peter Lelie
Roseanne Brouillard
Walter Later
Greg Coyen
Barry Proctor
Abdul Dewani
John Dunn
Robert MacDonald
Ronald Back
Jane Doe
Donald “Dusty” Fiske
Daniel Genge
Jozsef Theobold
John Doe
Francis “Frank” Lewis
Doug Taylor
Barry “Kermit” Gostlin
Archie McIsaac
Lynn Jean-Marie
Peter Chegahno
Edwin Hawthorne
Gary Blackburn
Charles Cameron
Jane Doe
Leonard McClaren
John Doe
John Doe
John Doe
John Doe
Steve Lovell
Trevor Littlejohn
Tim Hoffman
Willie Wilson
C. D.
Bill West

For more information, contact TDRC at

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