The 2017 City of Toronto budget will be finalized in February and HPAP members are concerned about the negative health impacts of the proposed budget cuts.
Drs. Shaurya Taran and Naheed Dosani’s Toronto Star editorial highlights the disproportionate impact of city budget cuts on those who are most vulnerable.
On Thursday January 10, several HPAP members attended a budget committee meeting and provided written submissions with their concerns.
Deputation – Dr. Michaela Beder
“Particularly worrisome is the budget’s proposed $10M service cuts, which include cuts of $1.8M to Shelter, Support and Housing, including more than $1M in staffing cuts. As a doctor working in the shelters, it is clear to me that they are packed to capacity, and there is a dire need for a significant increase in funding for both TCHC housing and shelter beds. In addition, the $30,000 proposed budget cut to shut down emergency cooling stations around the city is shortsighted and will undoubtedly have detrimental effects on the most vulnerable members of our city – marginally housed young children and the elderly – who have no alternative during heat alerts. These cooling centers provide a lifesaving service to many of Toronto’s homeless and under-housed.”
Deputation – Dr. Samantha Green
“Supporting housing means supporting a healthy city. Research from Toronto has proven that access to housing leads to improved health, particularly for folks with mental illness and addiction. Providing accessible recreation and community services leads to improved physical and mental health for all our citizens. Moreover, Toronto’s reputation as a welcoming, world class city depends on our support for our most vulnerable.”
Make your voice heard by joining one of the Councillor Budget Town Halls!
The erosion of social assistance rates, rise in precarious employment, increasing costs of living, colonization, and systemic racism all contribute to poverty in Ontario. This has a significant and detrimental impact on health, particularly in parts of the province where there is inequitable access to health care.
HPAP member and family physician, Katie Dorman, writes about this in her recent editorial in The Toronto Star.
On February 17, HPAP members joined the OCAP for the public release of their recent report Out In The Cold: The Crisis in Toronto’s Shelter System.
Dr. Mike Benusic’s message:
“I’m representing Health Providers Against Poverty. We are a group of health care workers – nurses, doctors, social workers, occupational therapists, etc – who work directly with people facing homelessness.
We were invited by John to join OCAP in conducting this survey and it confirmed what we hear everyday from our patients – the shelter system is stretched to the limit. The City of Toronto is relying on well-meaning charities to catch those falling through the gaps – but it’s clear from this report that they are bursting at the seams.
Today, City Council is voting on the budget. Originally, this budget did not even include funding to keep warming shelters open throughout the winter. Last year, 3 people died on the streets from cold exposure. This is just the tip-of-the-iceberg of how health is impacted by being out in the cold. 99% of deaths caused by cold weather don’t occur immediately – instead, they occur up to a month after exposure by increasing the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and pneumonia. Medically, ethically, and economically – it makes sense to bring everyone out of the cold.
It wouldn’t be correct to say the city is merely ignoring the crisis in the shelter system. In reality, they are actively planning to make it worse. The redevelopment of Seaton House poses a net loss of beds – which is unfathomable for a system already consistently above the target of 90% capacity.
Health Providers Against Poverty commend OCAP on documenting what unfortunately those using the shelter system know all too well, and providing 5 key ways the city must act.”
The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s recent report Out In The Cold: The Crisis In Toronto’s Shelter System has revealed the City’s inadequate response to homelessness, particularly in the cold winter months. The report includes findings from interviews with over 100 service users at numerous Out of The Cold locations.
This report confirms HPAP member’s concerns that Toronto shelter’s are over-crowded and inaccessible, contributing to serious health risks for people who are homeless.
The Toronto Star published OCAP’s findings in an article that asserts that “Toronto is failing to meet the basic needs of its homeless population”.
HPAP supports OCAP in demanding that the City take the following measures to address this crisis:
- Ensure the shelter system’s 90% maximum occupancy policy
- Immediately open new spaces to shelter people, including the Federal Armouries
- End discriminatory practices within the shelter system
- No further loss of shelter beds
- Respect the right to housing
Join OCAP for a Public Release of the Report and March to City Hall on Wednesday, February 17 at 11:00 AM, starting at Queen and Sherbourne.
Health care providers are advocating for the City of Toronto to provide adequate shelter space to keep people out of the cold and prevent unnecessary illness and deaths this winter.
HPAP’s Letter to Toronto City Councillors, by Drs. Michaela Beder and Michael Benusic, is listed on the Jan 18, 2016 Budget Committee meeting agenda.
Show your support for increased funding for shelters and warming centres in Toronto’s 2016 budget by signing this Petition to Mayor John Tory.
Seaton House on George Street is the City of Toronto’s largest men’s shelter. In 2013, over 3,000 men used one of the 540 beds there. The George Street Revitalization Project proposes to turn Seaton House into a long-term care home, emergency shelter, assisted living residence and service hub. While these services are important, Health Providers Against Poverty shares other community organizations’ concerns around potential loss of shelter beds and the Annex Harm Reduction Program. The loss of this managed alcohol program will force men who are alcohol dependent to sleep on the streets. In August 2015 the shelter system occupancy was at 93%, despite promises made by the City last year to not surpass 90% occupancy. We cannot afford the loss of any more shelter beds, until people who are homeless in Toronto have access to alternative, safer long term housing.
For more information, please see the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty statement.
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.
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
Social Planning Toronto
South Riverdale Community Health Centre
Download a PDF version of the letter here