Rachel is among the more than 50 doctors, psychiatrists, actors, directors, academics, lawyers, historians, musicians, business and restaurant owners who signed the open letter calling on city council to push to open 1,000 new beds, by the end of 2018. Signatories include writer Margaret Atwood, actress Sarah Polley and actress Catherine O’Hara. All the signatories can be found over here and you can find the open letter below.
CALL TO OPEN 1000 NEW SHELTER BEDS IN 2018
Dear Mayor Tory and Toronto City Council,
We are writing to you as a group of Torontonians who love our city and want the best for it.
To begin, we would like to thank the Mayor for opening the Moss Park Armoury this winter, and also for his personal support of the introduction of 1000 new permanent shelter beds. We recognize the belated but important actions that have been taken to deal with this crisis thus far. We also recognize the excellent people who are working on the front lines to help people who are homeless.
However we need more proactive and permanent solutions. We are writing to ask that city council take five urgent steps:
1. Fund and open a minimum of 1000 new shelter beds in 2018.
2. Keep the Moss Park Armoury open until the beds can be replaced with permanent shelter beds.
3. Honour the 90 percent occupancy cap on shelters.
4. Make long term advancements in wrap around care such as getting more mental health, addiction and harm reduction supports to those who need it.
5. Establish new standards and invest in improving overall drop-in and shelter conditions.
This is the time to move forward to make important changes for people facing homelessness in our community. We are very concerned about the lack of sustained action in providing adequate, permanent shelter spaces for vulnerable people in Toronto. Every year, we find ourselves in crisis, with our shelter system collapsing under the growing demand for space.
Toronto is not living up to the 90% occupancy cap on its shelters, set by city council in a vote in 2003, and reaffirmed in 2013, nor are we meeting the United Nations basic shelter standards such as the amount of space per person (3.5 sqm) or the minimum toilet and shower ratio per person.
This year, we were woefully unprepared for another, potentially deadly winter. The changes we are asking for will prepare us for next winter and throughout the year.
The current situation of cramming 400 more “spaces” into already overcrowded shelters, and over 700 people sleeping nightly in non- real shelters is untenable, unsafe and unsustainable. These 700 plus people currently estimated to be using Out of The Cold, drop-ins, and winter respite centers will be displaced when these facilities close in April 2018. In addition, over 400 people have been documented by the city’s last street needs assessment to be sleeping outside.
Those working directly in the shelter system and on the streets have been telling City Council for years that we need more shelter beds. In addition to dignity, adequate shelter is critical to improved personal safety, better health outcomes, and greater likelihood of employment.
Beyond the improvement in shelter beds, the data also supports a chronic need for more permanent subsidized housing. Shelters are important but people also have the right to more stable living conditions. We call on the City and its partners to look at a breadth of potential solutions to increase access to subsidized housing.
We are one of Canada’s most affluent cities. But we are failing our most vulnerable population. We are writing this letter to say that we will not accept this lack of compassion, justice and common sense in our city. Please act on all five of these important requests.