#TOBudget2016: Make Emergency Shelter Funding a Priority

By: Lauren Atmore

With the city’s 2016 budget deadline looming, the familiar fear of which services are going to be cut is creeping in. One area that is chronically underfunded are Toronto’s emergency shelters and drop-in centres, and unfortunately 2016 doesn’t look any more promising.

Although the City of Toronto website tells us there are 47 emergency shelters and hostels for our city’s most vulnerable, they are frequently over-populated and often have trouble meeting demand, especially in the winter and in poor weather conditions. When it comes to low-barrier options, there are even fewer options.

Many emergency shelters do not provide to low-barrier access for those who need them. With low-barrier access services, “the aim is to have as few barriers as possible to allow more people access to services. In housing this often means that tenants are not expected to abstain from using alcohol or other drugs, or from carrying on with street activities while living on-site, so long as they do not engage in these activities in common areas of the house and are respectful of other tenants and staff.” Essentially, these types of drop-in centres allow people to access services quicker, with fewer stipulations in place.

According to the Wellesley Institute, low-barrier access is important because “people should be able to get the help they need with low psychological barriers and procedural hurdles.”

Sistering is one of Toronto’s only low-barrier 24/7 drop-in centres. Executive Director Pat O’Connell says the lack of municipal funding for these services is at a crisis level. As she outlined at WiTOpoli’s 2016 Budget Explainer, the city and other channels of funding are only able to go so far, offering just band-aid solutions to a systemic issue. While healthcare is funded in part by the federal government and managed by the province, Pat explains how emergency facilities like Sistering are expected to pick up the slack. She often sees women dropped off at the centre by hospital or police services, only to have Sistering not have the necessary resources to handle someone in such dire need, and the clients being turned back to the very same services that brought them.

The silver lining is that organizations like Sistering focus on harm reduction which is an effective strategy in helping women avoid emergency services like hospitals, and saves nearly $1000 from our healthcare system with each trip avoided. They give women access to basic necessities like regular meals, hot showers and safe places to sleep which are the building blocks for women to get back on their feet.

But with the threat of reduced funding year over year, those working closest with the people who use shelter and drop-in services worry about making ends meet – or worse, having to turn people away. Advocates like Pat urge Torontonians to use their voices and harness political to make change. Many of the people in the emergency shelter system aren’t able to campaign for their needs as they struggle to make sure their basic needs are covered. While the goal is to ultimately build up our support systems to help people avoid poverty and the need to use emergency services, what Pat says we need right now is more places for women to go.

By writing, calling, tweeting and contacting our councillors and representatives at higher levels of government, we can let them know that the safety of those in need is a paramount concern that requires action now. Here’s a draft letter you can use when writing or e-mailing your councillor on this issue. Be sure to contact them ASAP – the budget will be presented in council this week on February 17th and 18th.

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WiTOpoli Weekly: Friday, August 21

 A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.

WiTOpoli Weekly: February 6, 2015

A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.

Ask Your Candidate: Accessibility

by Cherise Seucharan

Many people are unaware of the often invisible barriers that contribute to making Toronto less accessible. In many ways, accessibility is a “lens in which to view the city”, highlighting how issues within our policies and programs impact marginalized groups. Ask if your candidates are knowledgeable about these key accessibility issues, so that they can help to make much-needed improvements that can benefit everyone.

How will you support continued accessibility improvements to the TTC?

With the new accessible streetcars rolling out slowly over the next few years, Toronto is set to significantly increase the overall accessibility of its transit system. However, improvements to other transit programs are needed for the system to be fully accessible. The Wheel-Trans system, which is a door to door transit service for those who can’t use the TTC, is in need of a budget overhaul and more vehicles to accommodate the growing numbers of people who depend on the service. Additionally, the TTC’s commitment to making all stations accessible has been pushed back until 2025, several years after it was originally promised. Ask your council candidates if they will support continued improvements to TTC accessibility.

Do you support reduced TTC fares for the disabled?

The TTC and the Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit (ACAT) have been debating the implementation of reduced TTC fares for those who receive Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) or Ontario Works funding, or those who use Wheel-Trans. However, since 201,3 the discussion on this issue has not moved forward. Other Canadian cities like Ottawa, Vancouver and Calgary already have reduced fares in place for the disabled. Ask if your candidates will add Toronto to that list.


Do you have  a plan to increase accessibility before the 2015 Pan Am and ParaPan Am Games?

Millions of dollars have been invested in Toronto in preparation for the Pan Am /Para Pan Am Games. Accessibility will be essential for those coming from around the world to attend this inclusive event.  However, despite the prominence of the ParaPan Am portion of the event, there has been little discussion on how to accommodate athletes and fans with disabilities. The AODA Alliance argues that the Games should help Toronto build an “accessibility legacy” with improvements to accessible tourist attractions and investment into accessible athletic programs.

Will you support improvements and funding for the TCHC?

Finding affordable and accessible housing is another major challenge that people with disabilities face. Working with the Responsible Personal Accessibility in Toronto Housing (R-Path) committee, the TCHC supports those in need of accessible housing. However,  as we have already covered in this series, the organization is in dire need of improvement. Ask if your candidate will fight for better TCHC funding and management, particularly for those with disabilities.