#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.

Ask Your Candidate: Housing

By: Cherise Seucharan

With a lack of affordable housing vacancies, rent prices on the rise, and social housing steadily deteriorating, housing is an urgent city issue that has not yet been addressed in this municipal race. It is all the more critical due to Ontario’s funding structure- unlike other provinces, social housing is municipally, not provincially funded, which puts pressure on the city to meet a variety of housing needs. Women, in particular, are uniquely affected by the lack of affordable housing in Toronto, as they are often the prime or single caregivers in a household, and face lower income prospects than men. Additionally, more affordable housing, particularly for mothers and newcomers, means children are less likely to be raised in poverty, which increases the overall prosperity and well-being of our city.

What is your strategy to provide more affordable housing?

The growth of condominium developments is a contentious issue for many Torontonians, representing the prioritization of higher-priced “lifestyle” housing. Meanwhile, the availability of affordable housing in the city is declining. Affordable housing is generally defined as housing that costs about “30 percent of a household’s before-tax income”, and government policies are designed to take this measure into account when planning housing developments. However, as the number of condos being built exceeds the number of affordable units, demand has increased for the affordable places, driving up overall rent prices. Ask your candidate if they are willing to work with higher levels of government, as well as public and private housing bodies, to ensure there is more affordable housing.

Would you vote in favour of requesting more funding from the federal and provincial government for housing projects?

Earlier this year city council voted almost unanimously to request funding from higher levels of government, in order to support an estimated $2.6 billion in much-needed repairs for Toronto Community Housing residences. Mayor Ford then travelled to Ottawa to make the request known, but was met with an unfavourable response from the federal government. The TCHC has a long backlog of repairs needed for their deteriorating properties, and the city currently cannot afford these repairs without extra funds. Ask if your candidate would support a push for the extra funding needed.

How would you shorten the social housing waitlist?

Despite the previously mentioned attempts at procuring funds, there are still over 165,000 people on the waitlist for social housing in Toronto. Social housing is defined as “housing that is owned and operated by government or non-profit organizations where a portion or full amounts of the rents are subsidized,” and can exist in the form of housing co-ops, and private and public non-profit residences. Province-wide, the “affordability gap” is widening, with more families having to pay a larger portion of their income on housing, indicating a likely increase in the amount of social housing needed. How do the candidates in your ward plan on addressing the ever-lengthening wait list for affordable housing in Toronto?

How would you restore credibility to the TCHC?

Described as the “largest landlord in the country”, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation manages all of the public non-profit housing in the city, with a total of 164,000 residents. The TCHC has come under fire in recent years for numerous human rights violations, including allegations of abusive treatment of seniors, detailed in a report from the Ombudsman. The controversy prompted a restructuring of TCHC staff, but this past April, Gene Jones, the newly chosen CEO, was ousted amidst another scandal. With a recent history marked by scandal, the city should focus on strategies to restore credibility and higher standards to the organization.

How would you help to meet the varied needs of Toronto’s homeless population?

There is high stress placed on Toronto’s shelters to provide for the needs of the homeless in ways for which they were not originally equipped. While occupancy for beds at shelters is consistently high, shelters are also adapting to provide longer-term and assisted-needs housing, and to address the specific needs of women and the increasing number of homeless youth.  Additionally, the high number of people on the social housing wait-list is an indicator of those who are at risk for homelessness. What plans does your candidate have for alleviating this stress on Toronto’s shelters?