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article imageOp-Ed: Toronto City Council votes against emergency shelter discussion

By KJ Mullins     Feb 20, 2013 in World
Toronto - City Councilor Adam Vaughan has brought a 'No More Homeless Deaths' motion to City Hall Wednesday as OCAP (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty) turned City Hall into an emergency shelter.
Councillors from the downtown core spoke in favor for the motion but they were not enough for the final vote which failed with 24 in favor and 20 against.
Vaughan spoke about the needs of the homeless, of how the city is relying on churches to pick up the slack when the shelters are too full. Programs like Out of the Cold are being counted when it comes to shelter beds despite the fact that it is a volunteer program.
The need is now and has to be addressed now when the need is greatest Vaughan stressed, "we are failing to meet the needs of those living on the street on an ongoing basis."
Another motion from Councilor Kristyn Wong-Tam is on the books for April but for those in favor of today's motion the issue is that people are dying now and that has to be addressed.
"People do die. The 700th name has now been added to the list of homeless people that have died on city streets," stressed Vaughan.
For Councillor Gord Perks the matter is personal. His own sister, who has since passed away, lived on the streets. "We have seen this coming." Perks talked about how in his own ward that community housing is being reduced, how private low income housing rents are being increased and there is an attack on the social housing funds from all levels of government. "We have a duty to do this now so that no one sleeps on the streets tonight," Perks stated.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam spoke about the motion that she and Councillor Joe Mihevc introduced earlier that addresses the true number of shelter beds in weather emergencies. "What I hear from the city and from those working on the front lines is different." She then spoke of how people are having to go to several shelters a night only to be turned away and having to sleep on the floor of Central Intake on Peter Street.
Councillor Janet Davis said that we are seeing an increase of street homeless on the streets of Toronto and less funding to address it adding "I believe we have a responsibility to get these answers before the spring."
Councillor Mike Layton said that there is a crisis situation out there. He talked about how this is a safety issue and that everyone has a right to have dignity. He also spoke about one of the sad facts of Toronto shelters, there can be a safety issue within some of the places of refuge "some of the beds are in the downtown core like Seaton House people don't feel safe there."
Councillor Shelley Carroll said that the residents are asking for urgent action and that if there is "a loss of life because we have let people down".
Councillor Sarah Doucette spoke about a man she witnessed on her way to work this morning sleeping on a grate with no shoes and socks. "We need to discuss it now. I think this is the least we can do our our residents."
Councillor Pam McDonnell warned, "For those who sleep on the grates it is a death sentence, their life will be shortened. Waiting until March to discuss this could be to late for those on the street." She also reminded chambers that this is not just a winter issue as more homeless die during the heat of the summer.
Those who voted against the motion live outside of Toronto's downtown core including Mayor Rob Ford, his brother Doug Ford, Georgio Mammoliti, Doug Holyday and speaker Frances Nunziata.
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said that there are more bed and more funds saying that "the homeless are crying wolf."
Gloria Lindsay Luby agreed that there is an issue but said that the problem will not be solved in one swoop adding that some will not go into shelters no matter what. She wanted to have real numbers so that council can focus on the doable things. Those real numbers should be from the committee level she said, "Do the work there and bring the solution here."
Councillor Doug Ford also related that he has seen a man sleeping on the grates without shoes. He said that he went to look at the numbers after seeing that man and saw that the beds were the same. He believes that the city should focus on those who don't want to go into shelter saying "This city does not turn anyone away that needs help."
Vaughan needed 2/3 of the vote for the motion to precede. The final vote was 24-20. As the speaker announced that the vote had failed members of the public shouted out in anger saying that the council has blood on their hands.
For many it's a numbers game. Those who voted against the motion stated that there have not been a reduction of shelter beds in Toronto. This is true, but those beds are at 96 percent capacity.
The numbers don't show the full picture.
In Toronto the average income one needs to afford a one-bedroom apartment is $38,000. Fifty-five percent of single families in the city do not make that amount. Sixty-nine percent of single adults do not make that amount. A single person who is receiving Ontario Works (social assistance) makes a total of $7,104 a year. Those who are on Ontario Disability relieve a total of $12,636 a year.
The average homeless person lives on the streets for 3 years before they have a roof. Nine out of ten homeless want a home.
While the beds haven't reduced the number of homeless has increased. In Toronto there are over 604,000 people who are considered low-income with an average annual income of less that $21,000 (2 adults and 2 children). Those who are low income are most likely to be visible minorities, recent immigrants and single parents. Thirty-two percent of those living in poverty are under the age of 14.
What Toronto is facing is a perfect storm of poverty. As funding is reduced at all levels of government more children, working poor singles and those already on the street will be queing up each night for a space. There will be more sleeping on the sidewalks and there will not be a broom big enough to sweep them away.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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