Dealing with the reality of homelessness
Tents in city parks, men and women gathered under Toronto’s Gardiner Freeway, lean-tos and sleeping bags strewn in ravines, campfires among alders near beaches – none of it is new to Toronto. But it’s become a lot more visible since COVID hit town.
“Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a notable increase in the number and size of camps,” conceded the city of Toronto in its “Encampment Outreach & Response” page on its website.
Sofa surfing options have been limited by friends and family fearing it would be too crowded at home. Drug addiction and mental health facilities have either closed completely or severely restricted their admission. Provincial prisons have reduced their populations by 29%. Many of those discharged from jail, drug rehab, or hospital had no home to go to.
In early June, Toronto City Council passed a motion adopting a zero camp goal, coupled with a second motion calling on the city to end chronic homelessness.
At the Good Shepherd east of downtown on Queen Street, homeless men and women living in camps are regular guests.
“Our meal program is open to everyone,” notes Deputy Managing Director Aklilu Wendaferew. “We know there are people who live in camps who come here for a meal.”
Wendaferew believes the city must be ready for a large and possibly long-term increase in the homeless population, including those who live on the streets and camp in parks.
“There will be structural unemployment because of COVID,” Wendaferew said The Catholic register.
The Catholic social worker does not rule out the idea that the economy can rebound. The Good Shepherd has been around long enough to see boom times and large homeless populations coexist. When people at the bottom of the labor market, struggling with debt, lose their jobs, they often lose their homes. Being homeless rarely improves a person’s job prospects, mental health, or physical health.
“A lot of people are on the verge of homelessness,” Wendaferew said. “We will see an increase in homelessness in the next few times, as far as I see it. There will be a significant portion of our homeless population, even as the economy rebounds, that will be left behind. “
Le Bon Pasteur currently operates 50 beds at its Queen Street facility and a further 47 beds in a city-leased hotel on Jarvis Street. All beds are full. It is estimated that there are approximately 6,000 homeless people on the streets of any kind on any given night in Toronto.
Toronto is counting on federal and provincial funding pledged but not yet delivered to help execute a 24-month housing and homelessness recovery plan that aims to end by the end of 2022. The city is currently using $ 47 in funding. million dollars from the Shelter, Support and Housing Administration capital budget, plus approximately $ 3.5 million in open door incentives to support these housing efforts. The plan would add 2,460 new permanent units, including 1,460 supportive housing units and rent subsidies for up to 1,000 people.
“You really have to face the fundamental problem that drives people onto the streets, into camps,” Wedaferew said. “Deal with it and try to understand why they are there. It is about poverty, housing and support.
While mental health and addiction are certainly present in the city’s most vulnerable homeless population, it is a mistake to attribute all homelessness to uncontrollable drug and alcohol use.
“I wouldn’t say everyone out there has a drug problem and doesn’t want to deal with it. I don’t think so, ”Wendaferew said. “The camps are first and foremost a question of poverty. These are people who do not have sufficient funds to rent accommodation. It is the lack of housing, in particular the lack of safe and affordable housing.
The Good Shepherd operates a successful and respected drug and alcohol recovery program at its Queen Street East facility, but serves a minority of the clientele. The majority live in situations where they cannot cook a meal or lack the money to buy groceries.
While COVID has been a serious challenge for Le Bon Pasteur, the situation has stabilized. More than 80% of regulars are vaccinated. But Wendaferew’s COVID concerns extend to next year and beyond.
“This must really alarm us. We have to understand that with COVID there is a serious economic downturn and that there are a significant number of people who will be in poverty, who will be permanently unemployed, ”he said. “We have to prepare. Some of them will end up homeless. We really have to prepare for it as a society. “