Toronto is considering an ambitious new plan to combat homelessness as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to exacerbate the issue.
In a draft report developed by the Shelter, Support and Housing Administration in conjunction with United Way, city officials have put forward a number of potential strategies to get people off the street and keep them housed.
One of the primary ideas suggested in the report is for the city to lease and purchase old buildings and office spaces to be converted into permanent housing.
Other proposals include the transformation of existing emergency shelter spaces into permanent housing units; the rapid construction of modular housing; and the creation of a more robust network of harm reduction and addiction resources.
The report does not give an idea of how much money would be needed to make the plan a reality, but Toronto MP Adam Vaughan says it would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
Vaughan, an advocate for increased public spending on housing, acknowledges the price tag may upset residents worried about higher taxes, but says the end result would significantly cut costs already allocated to treating the symptoms of homelessness, as well as improving society as a whole.
“A homeless person is just a neighbour without a house. When you house them, they turn into neighbours, and none of us talk about our neighbours this way,” Vaughan said.
“I appreciate the heavy toll that downtown residents pay, but at the same time, we have a significant population of people whose health risks are something which should concern us all.”
Street nurse Cathy Crowe, who has worked with Toronto’s homeless population for over two decades, said the SSHA’s draft report falls short in answering how it will address the complexities that will come along with attempting to implement such big changes.
Crowe called the suggestion of closing the city’s Out of the Cold emergency shelter program without offering an alternative “vague,” and said that the report doesn’t offer any specifics on how the city could handle the transition from the current system to the one envisioned.
A formerly homeless resident who lived in one of the now-vacant buildings, Rob Dods said he understands the concerns that residents in the area have, and points out it’s not just them who have felt unsafe around the leased buildings.
Dods, who now lives in a subsidized building closer to downtown, said the problem lies in the fact that homeless people are often painted with one brush and housed together in a single space without consideration of their individual needs or potential for conflict.
“Staying in shelters is not fun,” Dods said. “There’s a lot of mental health issues, addiction issues, aggression issues. It’s not one person’s fault, but it gets messy when everyone gets put together like that.”
Crowe and Vaughan agree, arguing that a successful strategy in the fight against homelessness will be one that spreads affordable housing out across the city, rather than centralizing it in a small handful of buildings.
Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
News source: The Canadian Press