Feb 27, 2017
This winter, I assumed it would be apparent to the mayor and city councillors that it was finally time for the city to initiate emergency shelter measures, which were only a phone call away.
In a letter and petition signed by over 2,500 people, my co-signers and I asked Mayor Tory to make a phone call to Ottawa to Harjit Sajjan, the Minister of National Defense. The purpose: to request the emergency use of the federal armouries in Toronto for use as an emergency shelter.
The response from the mayor’s office and shelter division included vague statements that the armouries were “not appropriate” or had “inadequate washroom facilities” and “lack of privacy,” as if living on sidewalks, parks, ravines, under overpasses meets any human living standards.
One can almost see this ridiculous logic as a Rick Mercer skit where he walks by a cavernous armoury and points out we wouldn’t leave dogs outside like we leave people.
Why the armouries? This is simply the type of effort that is necessary to respond to a social welfare disaster of this level. It’s what we would expect anywhere in the country after a natural disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, flood or ice storm.
During past periods of extreme shelter shortage, homeless advocates called for the armouries. Former Toronto Mayors Mel Lastman and David Miller both heeded our advice, made the Ottawa phone call and the rest is history. The Fort York and Moss Park armouries were used a total of four times. There is no question in my mind, and that of other front-line experts that this saved lives. It also provided a fair bit of evidence that we needed a national housing program.
Fast forward to today. This winter the shelter emergency has collided with the emergency of opiate overdose. While evident in Vancouver for some time the crisis is now exposed publicly in Toronto through the tragic death of a young Indigenous homeless man, who was unable to get a mat in the overcrowded overnight drop-in he attended.
The extent of the public outcry for more life-saving shelters is astounding. It is widespread; it is sophisticated and grounded in truth.
Today there are over 3,100 signatures on the petition to the Mayor.
Over 30 organizations signed a Social Planning Toronto letter to the Mayor calling for the opening of an armoury or similar emergency shelter space because lives were at stake.
Multi-faith leaders and Out of the Cold held a press conference at city hall also calling for more emergency shelter space. This was incredibly significant as the Out of the Cold program begins shutting down next month and the city loses over 800 mat-sleeping spaces per week.
In addition to begging Mayor Tory, appeals have also been made to the City’s Ombudsman, the City Manager, the City’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Human Rights and city councillors.
The questions remain: Where will people go? How will they survive? How many more must suffer? How many more must die?
Toronto badly needs leadership with political conscience and humility.
In early 2015 after a cluster of cold weather homeless deaths Mayor Tory responded, “One is too many.” Since Mayor Tory made that statement 87 homeless people have died in Toronto.
One was too many.