Letter to Toronto City Council on Addressing Homelessness in the 2014 Budget

Wed Jan 22, 2014

To: City of Toronto Council Members
Cc: Shelter Support and Housing Administration

Re: Toronto Community Organizations and Agencies Demand Action on Homelessness in the 2014 City Budget

We, the undersigned represent community agencies and organizations in the City of Toronto who are concerned with the ongoing homelessness crisis in our city.  We are writing to you to urge you to take action now.

As you are aware, City Council voted to bring shelter occupancy rates down to 90% more than 9 months ago, but have failed to keep their promise.  Capacity for all shelters remains well over 90% in almost all sectors, even with the use of the flex beds, and the overall overcrowding or worsening conditions have not been adequately addressed.

We call on you as City Councilors to support the motions and directions set at the December 4, 2013 Community Development and Recreation Committee.

Everyone agrees that long term housing is preferable to shelter beds but it is necessary to recognize that we are operating in a context where social housing options are minimal and efforts to pit ‘housing allowance’ strategies against maintaining shelter spaces have only deepened the crisis of overcrowding within the hostel system.  Adequate shelter provision must be provided until real viable housing options reduce the need for it.

Therefore, we ask that City Council:

  • Ensure that the Housing Stabilization Fund (HSF) be maintained at 2013 funding levels in order to prevent homelessness and promote housing stability and restore the criteria around the provision of furniture and household items. As it stands right now, there is a proposed $4.3 million cut to HSF funding. This is unacceptable and must be voted against and full funding restored!
  • 
Include in the budget the necessary resources ($4.5 million according to Shelter Administration budget briefing note) to increase access to shelter beds so that shelter capacity does not exceed 90% in ANY category of shelter. New shelter space is needed immediately in order to decrease the capacity and crowding in the shelters.
  • Support the continued funding for the new women’s shelter that has been opened recently and to increase the capacity in this sector.  Support the development and opening of LGBTQ youth focused shelter and transitional housing.  Ensure a moratorium on the closing of any further shelter.
  • Provide new funding for and immediately open 24 hour or after hour safe space for women in the downtown east and west ends.  These spaces should consider the unique access needs for women in these areas, should be low barrier and operate with a harm reduction approach.  This issue has been referred over to further reports and consultations, but we need action now.
  • Open 24 hour warming centres during the extreme cold weather alerts that are:
    • Located in neighborhoods across the city where they are needed
    • Accessible, low barrier with a harm reduction approach, and pet friendly
    • Provide cots and blankets for people to rest with some sense of privacy
    • Provide healthy, hot food
    • Provide access to health care provision on site

Until the time that housing and adequate income is available and accessible to all, we require that the very basic need of safe space, shelter and food is met.  We call on the City of Toronto to implement the above recommendations in order to take the step towards this goal.  We hope to see your support for this critical issue at the next city council meeting.

Sincerely,

Central Toronto Community Health Centres
Bathurst United Church
Toronto Disaster Relief Committee
Greater Toronto Workers Assembly
Health Providers Against Poverty
Native Women’s Resource Centre of Toronto
ONA (Ontario Nurses Association) Local 054
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
Parkdale Community Legal Services
Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC)
Regent Park Community Health Centre
St. Clare’s Multifaith Housing Society
Sanctuary
Sistering
Social Planning Toronto
South Riverdale Community Health Centre
Street Health

Download a PDF version of the letter here

Letter To Premier Wynne on Homelessness Prevention

December 5, 2013

To:
Hon. Kathleen Wynne, MPP, Premier of Ontario
Hon. Linda Jeffrey, MPP, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
Hon. Teresa Piruzza, MPP, Minister Responsible for Poverty Reduction
Hon. Ted McMeekin, MPP, Minister of Community and Social Services

Dear Premier Wynne, Minister Jeffrey, Minister Piruzza, and Minister McMeekin,

We are writing on behalf of Health Providers Against Poverty to urge you to respond immediately to the housing and homelessness crisis in Ontario.

The Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) previously provided support to people on social assistance by covering unexpected housing or housing-related costs that would otherwise be unaffordable. Typical circumstances in which people accessed the CSUMB included transition support from hospital for those without secure housing, elimination of health risks such as bedbugs or mould, and payment of first and last month rent deposits to secure adequate housing, where this was otherwise not possible. When the government announced termination of this benefit in December 2012, only half of the previously designated funds were to be transferred to the municipalities. Province-wide mobilization of community and health organizations concerned about these cuts resulted in government creation of a one-time $42 million “transition fund” to help municipalities deal with the loss of the CSUMB and move to the municipality-based homelessness prevention through the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI). This one-time injection of funds runs out in March 2014.

The transition to CHPI funding presented many challenges for municipalities and was complicated by a new cap on discretionary benefits for individuals on social assistance. There is now greater variability in eligibility criteria for housing-related funding across the province. Overall, loss of the CSUMB has meant that many low income Ontarians cannot access direct funding for housing-related needs. Evidence shows us that this will undoubtedly threaten the health of these individuals. The cost savings of eliminating the CSUMB will result in greater costs elsewhere, particularly in our health care system.

Homelessness negatively impacts health and is associated with a greatly increased risk of death. Among men using shelters for the homeless in Toronto, mortality rates were found to be 8.3 times higher than the mean for 18–24 year olds, 3.7 times higher than the mean for 25–44 year olds and 2.3 times higher than the mean for 45–64 year olds. It is tragic and unacceptable that there are over 700 names on Toronto’s homeless memorial.

If the moral imperative alone does not compel the government to take immediate action to reduce homelessness, the high costs to health care should. Researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital found that hospital admissions for homeless patients cost over $2,500 more than admissions for the average housed patient.

As health care providers, we strongly support the call to make permanent the $42 million in “transition funding” for critically important housing and homelessness funds administered by municipalities under the CHPI, as articulated by a number of organizations in this letter.

While the $42 million will not replace the CSUMB, it will alleviate some of the hardship brought on by the government’s elimination of this important security net for low-income individuals facing housing crises.

Regards,

Katie Dorman, MD
James Deutsch, MD
Andrea Perry, OT

Letter To Toronto City Councillors In Support of the Access Not Fear Campaign

Toronto City Councillors
Toronto City Hall
100 Queen Street West
Toronto, Ontario, M5H 2N1

Feb 13, 2013

Re: Community Development and Recreation Committee Recommendations on Undocumented Workers in Toronto, Motion 18.5

Dear Councillor;

I am writing on behalf of Health Providers Against Poverty, a group of physicians, nurses, and students committed to improving the health of individuals who live in poverty. We ally with other community organizations to promote policy that recognizes social factors as the key determinants of health of individuals living in Ontario.

Today, we join Toronto-based community groups and the Solidarity City Network in supporting the Access Not Fear Campaign in calling for improved access to services for undocumented workers in our city.

As you know, the Community Development and Recreation Committee recently adopted motion 18.5, which commits the City of Toronto to providing services for undocumented workers, as well as advocating on behalf of undocumented workers at the provincial and federal levels.

As reported by York University Professor Luin Goldring, there are an estimated 200,000 workers residing in Toronto without legal authorization to work. These individuals face many challenges including denial of services offered to other Torontonians, such as health services, housing, and social support. Individuals without legal status are also particularly likely to have to accept work for low wages, under poor and unsafe work conditions. This poses a serious threat to their mental and physical health. We believe that increased access to city services will mitigate the health impact of living as undocumented members of the community and lessen health risks for those living in poverty.

Undocumented workers abide by our laws, pay taxes, and make significant contributions to our community. They perform jobs that have benefited many of us, without being recognized for the difficult working conditions experienced. Yet, undocumented workers are not afforded the same access to health and social services as those with legal status. This is deeply unjust and tarnishes Toronto’s historical reputation as a welcoming city.

Beyond the impacts on individuals, it seems critical for the City to review the contributions made by undocumented workers to our economy and within our communities. We must reflect on the economic and social consequences of excluding these valuable members of our society from the services provided to other Torontonians.

We look forward to an opportunity for consultation on this issue, and for Toronto to defend the human rights of residents in this city.

Sincerely,

Katie Dorman
For the Steering Committee of
Health Providers Against Poverty

Download a PDF version of the Letter