#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.

WiTOpoli Weekly: Friday, January 29

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: Friday, November 13

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: Friday, June 5

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.

  • The Concerned Citizens to End Carding, a group of prominent and influential voices, gathered together at City Hall Wednesday to call for an end to the practice
  • Bill 77 passed on Thursday making Ontario the first province to ban conversion therapy for LGBT youth
  • Next week, council will vote on the fate of the Gardiner expressway. Check out the Toronto Star’s latest update to see where they stand on the issue.
  • Ontario will allow ranked ballot systems to be used in the 2018 municipal elections, spurring media interest in who has the right to vote, including the 250,000 Torontonians who are not Canadian citizens. The CBC’s The 180 explores the merits of including these residents in the municipal voting process.
  • The Inside Agenda Blog explores policy options to address the lack of affordable housing in Ontario.
  • Ontario Legal Clinics are making services more accessible to precariously employed workers. Over the next 2 years legal clinics across Ontario will receive and additional $9.8 million to increase capacity and services.
  • The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has concluded that the residential school program for aboriginal Canadians, that ran up until 1996, amounted to cultural genocide.
  • Ipolitics explores the impact of the “unofficial” Federal election campaign, suggesting it could be long, dirty and expensive.
  • Canadian banks and accounting firms are committing to the 30% Club to promote the inclusion of more women in senior corporate roles. The group aims to ensure women occupy 30% of their boards by 2020.
  • Patricia Lane shares her thoughts on how the First Past the Post system continues to leave women out of Federal Politics.

WiTOPoli Weekly: Friday, May 8

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.

  • Mayor Tory asked the civic appointments committee to review their recommendation to add 4 white men to the TTC commission. In the end, council decided to sub out one of the male appointments for Maureen Adamson, making her 1 of 2 women on the 11-person commission, which includes no visible minorities.
  • At this week’s city council meeting, Mike Layton’s motion to implement inclusionary zoning did not earn enough votes for debate but instead will be referred back to committee before returning to council. Inclusionary zoning would force new developments to set aside a certain number of unit for low income residents.
  • Tenants in Parkdale have been organizing against Swedish property company Akelius for the poor service and unfair rent increases they’ve been experiencing. As a Parkdale Legal Services rep explains “Akelius wants working class and immigrant tenants out of their buildings in Parkdale, that is clear.” Learn more about the challenges tenants face in this write-up on Landlord Licensing from Torontoist.
  • After Rachel Notley’s stunning win in Alberta this week, Equal Voice’s Nancy Peckford reflects on the many accomplishments of her historic campaign. Not only will the new Alberta government have the highest percentage of female representatives in Canadian history, but the campaign was focused on Notley’s ideas rather than her personal life, which is rare for a female candidate.
  • Despite nationwide protests last week and repeated concerns raised over privacy violations, Bill C-51 has been passed.
  • A new study released this week details the serious gender pay gap in Canada which is double than the global average.
  • The NDP will introduce a bill to end the tampon tax, piggybacking on the efforts of an online petition which has reached over 72,000 signatures.

WiTOpoli Weekly: February 20, 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.