On January 14th, the Economic and Community Development Committee for the City of Toronto held a meeting about the crisis in Toronto shelters. Sault Ste Marie made a list of cities that bought bus, taxi, or plane tickets to send their homeless to Toronto instead of being cared for in their local communities.
“There are an increasing number of stories of people arriving at our services” Mary-Anne Bedard, General Manager of Shelter, Support and Housing for the City of Toronto
The 2018 Toronto Street Needs Assessment showed that 22% of the homeless housed were in Toronto for less than a year. Smaller cities and towns with insufficient homeless and shelter services have been sent to Toronto. Bedard said a significant amount of the homeless arrived from Brampton, Hamilton, Mississauga, Newmarket, Oshawa, Ottawa, St Catharines, and Sault Ste Marie.
Toronto has the highest per capita shelter beds in Canada at 247 beds per 100,000 people. The homeless population is approximately 8000 people that the City of Toronto knows about. It is a big issue as shelter beds grew from 4319 in 2015 to 7585 at the end of 2019. Another 740 beds will be added in 2020. “Our system is operating at capacity,” Bedard said.
Of the homeless using Toronto shelters, 25% occupy a bed for at least six months and 10% for over a year. At a cost of $110 per night. Toronto had to open 15 new buildings in the last three years at a cost of $178 million paid for by the City of Toronto. Even with the increased funding, small “tent cities” or encampments popped up around Toronto.
Toronto taxpayers fund the shelters housing the 22% of non-Toronto homeless. Toronto Mayor John Tory asked the federal and provincial governments for shelter funding as the City of Toronto cannot afford to pay for most of Ontario’s chronically homeless population.
In a wealthy country like Canada, it is a shame that over 1000 homeless dead since 1985 are listed on the Toronto Homeless Memorial. There were more homeless deaths, those names remain known.
There was no public proof presented that the District of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Administration Board (DSSMSSAB) bought bus tickets to send their homeless permanently to Toronto. However, they buy bus tickets for clients who need to go to other cities including Toronto. But not to get rid of them. The round-trip bus tickets were for healthcare or employment opportunities.
The City of Toronto saying that the Sault sends their homeless to Toronto was denied by Mike Nadeau, Chief Administrative Officer of DSSMSSAB.
Do Sault homeless find their way to Toronto shelters? Yes. But not on purpose.
For example, DSSMSSAB purchases a bus ticket for a client to go to a job interview in Toronto. The client gets hired. The job does not work out and the client finds themself homeless. They go to a Toronto shelter. The City of Toronto considers that person coming to Toronto via a bus ticket purchased by DSSMSSAB.
During an interview, Nadeau stressed that DSSMSSAB uses a housing-first approach to each homeless case. The goal is to move a homeless person into an affordable unit within 30 days.
The Sault’s homeless population grew from 72 in 2016 to 102 in 2018. Nadeau explained the increase came from having a “better idea of who is homeless.”
Nadeau described the DSSMSSAB goal as the “functional homeless go to zero. We can never get to zero. But we can get close.”
It was disingenuous of the City of Toronto to single out the Sault without any concrete proof. Bedard presented proof of Brampton putting homeless people into taxis and sending them to Toronto. No such proof was provided for the accusation against the Sault.