A Crisis in Shelter Access: John Clarke

Housing advocates hold  demonstration outside Metro Hall on February 1, 2013. Photos by Desmond Cole.

Housing advocates hold demonstration outside Metro Hall on February 1, 2013. Photos by Desmond Cole.

On Friday February 1, about 40 housing advocates staged a demonstration outside Metro Hall at King and John Streets. They warned that homeless people are dying on Toronto’s streets, in part because they cannot access shelter from extreme winter weather.

Representatives from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Street Health, AIDS Action Now, Sistering, Health Providers Against Poverty, and Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto spoke about the need—in the dire absence of affordable housing and social supports—for more access to emergency shelter in Toronto.

Nearly all speakers challenged the city of Toronto’s assessment of the need for emergency shelter beds, including John Clarke of OCAP. The following are excepts of his comments:

“I’d like to thank everybody for coming out on such short notice. This is an emergency action. It is response to the fact that social cutbacks from the province and the city have created a situation of such proportions that we are seeing, now, a spate of people dying.

In the last short while, two people have died, one from the circumstances–he appears to have trying to keep himself warm with a heater, and was burned to death.

The refrain that we get constantly from the administration is here is that there’s nothing to worry about, there’s plenty of beds, there’s no problem, this is all an over-reaction…

This is really offensive and obscene to be covering up the fact that there is not enough shelter space available.

Yesterday, a lawyer called the OCAP office and pointed out that she has clients who are trying to make bail in jail. To get bail, they need a shelter bed, and they are staying in jail because no shelter beds are available, and the jails have become warehouses for human beings on that basis.

Anyone who tries to find beds, because they need them, or because they’re looking for a bed for homeless people that they’re advocating for, is fully aware of the enormities of the crisis. And now we have municipal cuts, we have the province eliminating the community start-up benefit. All these things are contributing to this enormous crisis…

[City officials] need to respond to this crisis. They need to make changes to the new housing stabilization fund that replaces community start-up. They need to free up $3 million in contingency funds that they are sitting on while people are dying. And more than anything else, they need to stop lying about the situation, they need to stop covering up. They need to acknowledge that there is a crisis on the streets of this city.

Today, everybody is talking about the austerity agenda that governments are committed to. Homeless people dying on the streets are both the logical result and the ultimate effect of the austerity agenda, and we cannot tolerate this. If we have a situation where it becomes normal an routine for homeless people to die on the streets of Toronto, and nobody raises a voice of objection, then there is no hope. We have to challenge this injustice.”

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