Reports / Articles

October 1998

Proposal for Emergency Relief Strategy for the City of Toronto

Relief Efforts for Toronto


- To provide immediate respite and safety for homeless people
- To prevent further threats to homeless people's physical and mental health


The following measures should be instituted immediately. These measures must be temporary; that is, used for as short a period as possible. People using these emergency resources ultimately must be provided with appropriate, safe, permanent living situations.

Large Shelters......

Moss Park Armoury should be opened as an emergency 24-hour-a- day facility to handle the overflow from existing emergency shelter services. Similar facilities should be opened in other areas in the city.

Ø Rationale. In 1996, during 'Operation Cold Snap', the military opened Moss Park Armoury as an emergency "warming facility". This operation, triggered by the deaths of several single homeless men, was intended to prevent further harm to individuals. It succeeded as an emergency measure. The facility was well-used, by close to 200 people. Homeless people and advocates alike considered it safe and clean and adequately staffed by cadets, volunteers, public health nurses and mental health workers. Similar facilities would serve the same purpose.

Smaller Specialized Shelters.....

Other public buildings (or buildings on short-term municipal leases) should be made available for shelter. In particular, resources should be allocated to meet the special needs of families, women and children, youth, aboriginal people, people with an immuno-deficiency or chronic illness such as HIV/AIDs, and people with addictions. Some specialized facilities will require proper ventilation to protect immune-compromised people from airborne diseases.

Ø Rationale. Research and inquest recommendations point to the need for smaller shelters.

Public Parks....

Several parks should be designated as places of refuge. Security, portable toilets, bath houses, emergency health services, emergency shelter (mobile homes, rail cars, trailers, tents) must be provided.

Ø Rationale. Homeless people are currently forced to dwell in parks, and probably will continue to use park space until adequate housing is built.

Providing functional shelter in the parks, with access to health services, water, bathing facilities and toilets, is humane and healthy public policy.

Unused railcars, mobile homes, and army tents are readily accessible.

Emergency Health Care......

Emergency health relief efforts should include the following:

  • outreach health care services at all existing and new emergency sites by health care workers who are trusted and respectful of people's special needs 
  • a hospital discharge protocol that ensures that homeless people requiring recuperation, convalescence, medication, treatments etc. are not discharged "to the street"
  • immediate opening of an emergency infirmary to allow individuals with illnesses such as tuberculosis, bronchitis, flu, pneumonia, skin infections, uncontrolled diabetes, etc. to recuperate in a safe, supervised fashion
  • immediate opening of additional detox facilities, including one culturally sensitive to aboriginal people
  • infection and disease control programs, including immunization programs and tuberculosis screening, bathing facilities, waste management (i.e., adequate toilets/portable toilets), safe food handling, adequate ventilation
  • supplementary feeding and vitamin programs
  • health strategies that especially treat the relationship between homelessness and severe infectious or communicable diseases, such as HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis and hepatitis. Strategies for prevention and care for those who are already infected must be developed immediately (harm reduction, special facilities and care for people with HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis, etc.)

Ø Rationale. The burden of illness and death is exacerbated by crowding, stress, hunger, lack of basic facilities for hygiene, inadequate health care and dismantled health programs. Services must be reconstructed to include preventive, curative and primary care.

Support: Faith Groups, Local Charity Resources, and Non-Governmental Organizations.......

Governments must provide funding to enable these organizations to provide adequate staffing, nutritional food, personal hygiene supplies, clothing, bedding, indoor and outdoor space for homeless people during this emergency period.

Ø Rationale. These groups have been instrumental in responding to the early stages of the homeless disaster by providing space in their facilities, collection of sleeping bags, food and clothing, etc. However, their resources are depleted and their volunteers over worked, leaving them unable to respond to the floods of homeless people requiring their service. As a result, their space remains empty for most of the year. Their interest and commitment should be supported by government funding so they can continue their valuable contribution.

Suspend and Reassess Discriminatory Municipal Bylaws.....

Bylaws that limit the location of housing and services for the poor, and that prevent homeowners creating and maintaining adequate rental apartments, should be suspended.

Ø Rationale. Present bylaws covertly attempt to 'people zone' rather than zone land uses. For years, some homeowners were prepared to renovate for rental purposes but were prevented by restrictive bylaws. Some renovations could bring new housing on-stream (eg., basement apartments, backyard buildings).

Reopen and Keep Open Services....

Several services assisting the homeless have been closed, or are classified as temporary and hence due to close, or are precarious due to insecure funding. There must be a moratorium on any loss of services until the emergency is over.

Ø Rationale. Closures literally dump significant numbers of homeless people into a shelter system that has no capacity remaining. It is one of the most harmful practices that can be enacted on to a vulnerable population.

Reinstate the 21.6% to Social Assistance Benefits.....

The reinstatement of the 21.6% is the most important preventative measure with respect to homelessness.

Ø Rationale. There is no question that removing one fifth of the money impoverished households receive each month (introduced in October 1996) has resulted in some becoming homeless and has placed many more at immediate risk of becoming homeless and remaining homeless. The most recent study of welfare rates in Canada found that most people living on welfare were even poorer in 1996 than the people living on welfare in 1986. The report by the National Council of Welfare notes that the depth of their poverty is getting worse because benefits do not keep up with the cost of living and because benefit levels in all provinces are well below the poverty line.

Public Information Campaign....

A public information campaign to explain the nature of the crisis of homelessness is needed. The campaign would also address basic human rights issues such as discrimination towards people on social assistance, people of colour, people with HIV/AIDs, people with substance issues and drug issues.

Ø Rationale. Negative stereotypes, hate-mongering and misinformation are harmful and work to prevent solutions. A public campaign, local and national is needed to better inform the public about the nature of the crisis and the short and long term risks to the men, women and children who are homeless in our communities.

Legal Strategy.....

Human Rights legislation must be enforced and tenant legal protection must be increased.

Ø Rationale. Reports of discrimination in housing are on the increase as are evictions. It is presently very difficult for people who are poor to obtain legal representation.

B. IMMEDIATE LONG TERM: The 1 Percent Solution

We call on all levels of government to increase their collective spending on housing by 1 percent of their total budgets.

Ø Rationale. Current housing expenditures of the federal, provincial and local governments as a percentage of all budget expenditures, average about 1 percent (approximately $3.8 billion). From the late 1940s to the mid-1990s, the federal and provincial governments provided about 600,000 social housing units. The annual cost of this housing, together with all other housing programs delivered by any level of government in Canada, is about 1 % of the combined federal, provincial, territorial and local government budget expenditures (1994/95 fiscal year, Statistics Canada, CANSIM). The federal government spends about 1.2% of its budget on housing, as does the Province of Ontario. Local governments spend a little less than one percent of their budgets on housing (0.9%). Lack of government intervention leads to higher housing prices for all Canadians, pushes up the costs of existing housing and land and reduces housing starts, thereby increasing the numbers of people made homeless.

For people living in poverty, the threat of homelessness is real. The Toronto Mayor's Task Force on Homelessness recently reported that more than 80,000 people in Toronto are at risk of becoming homeless. For homeless people, long-term shelter living is not sustainable, leading to serious illness, risk of TB, HIV/AIDs, depression, deprivation of civil rights and deterioration of the human spirit.

Annual Federal housing expenditures from 1991 to 1996 were approximately 1 percent or $2 billion. This year the Federal government is devoting $9.7 billion dollars to military expenditures (Project Ploughshares). Such skewed national funding priorities are turning more Canadian residents into homeless refugees. Devoting an additional 1 percent of overall spending to housing would be the single largest step towards eliminating homelessness. Governments must implement the 1 percent solution on behalf of all Canadians; delay will lead to even more injuries and death.  

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