Members of City of Toronto Council have published the first draft of the 2018 Budget. There is little in this budget to commend itself to those of us who want the Council to enable their own anti-poverty initiatives. Beyond that there were glaring gaps in funding, including money to pay crossing guards and lifeguards. These may prove an opportunity for the Mayor to act as a White Knight and come to the rescue. He has shown no indication that he will do any jousting for the poor, although there is an unfunded strategy he helped author four years ago lost somewhere in his castle.
In the meantime he has declined to respond to a request from community agencies to provide emergency shelter for the homeless in city-owned armories, where there would be washrooms and cots instead of more mats on the floor of already-crowded shelters. Does he want us to focus on this instead of the poverty reduction strategy he is ducking funding?
Here is Rafi Aaron's take. Rafi is an advocate and part of our interfaith work to bring dignity to people's lives.
I want to thank you all for your support of the homeless at such a critical moment in our City's history.
The Mayor's Declaration is Not Good News
At City Hall on November 30th we stood with the most compassionate and dedicated front-line organizations in the City. They included:
Sistering, Street Health, PARC, Queen West & Parkdale Community Health Centre, Regent Park Community Health Centre, Toronto Drop in Network (which represents 50 sites), Sound Times, Sanctuary, Houselink, and St Stephens.
All of us had called for the immediate opening of 400 beds in the shelter system and another 1000 beds to be opened in 2018. We has also called for the Mayor to use the power that he has to declare an emergency in the shelter system, and to open the Moss Park and Fort York Armouries. Each provides 150 cots (so we're getting people off the floor), have adequate washrooms and showers and are spacious.
What the Mayor Proposed & Why It Won't Work
1) He wants to add 400 mats to existing shelters and drop-ins. Shoe horning additional mats to already crowded facilities that are at or near 100% capacity is not the answer. Most of these facilities do not have sufficient washrooms or any showers.The proximity to which people are forced to sleep are breeding grounds for disease. Over crowding has resulted in chronic insomnia for those who use the system exacerbating the mental, emotional and physical challenges of those who use the system.
2) Advancing the opening of 3 new shelters for the GSR (George Street Revitalization) in 2018 instead of 2019. These are all replacement beds for ones that are being closed at Seaton House, so they in no way can be counted as new beds. GSR is only for men and there is a great need for womens shelters.
3) Motels rooms. They do not serve the single women, men, family sectors. It's uncertain how many of these would be used, and as in the past how or when they would be activated.
Needless to say these half measures that don't help the homeless have been devastating for front-line workers and I have been inundated with e-mails from them.
We can put pressure on by signing this petition.
The account in the Gospel of John (chapter 5) of Jesus healing the paralysed man at the Pool of Bethsaida includes the adjuration to the healed man to take up his mat and walk; demonstrating to himself, if no one else, that he can live a different life. Maybe the Mayor will take up his mat and walk in a different direction.