QUEEN’S PARK — Rima Berns-McGown, Ontario NDP critic for Poverty and Homelessness, is calling on the Doug Ford government to declare homelessness in the province a state of emergency. Berns-McGown said recognizing the crisis would also mean taking immediate action to properly fund shelters, as well as transitional, supportive, and rent-geared-to-income housing for people in need.
Berns-McGown’s call follows the commemoration Tuesday of the 1,000th known homeless death in Toronto and the dismantling last week of homeless camps in Rosedale Valley. The crisis of homelessness is playing out in cities across the province, from Ottawa, London and Hamilton, to Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout, and Kenora, to Peterborough, Kitchener-Waterloo and St. Catharines.
“No one should have to experience homelessness, but this is the cold reality of everyday life for more and more Ontarians, including entire families and a disproportionate number of Indigenous people,” said Berns-McGown. “With shelters overflowing and ‘tent cities’ getting torn down, people literally have nowhere to turn and we see person after person after person die a preventable death. Ontario has a homelessness crisis, and it’s inexcusable for the provincial government to keep ignoring it when lives are on the line.
“It got harder to make ends meet in Ontario on the Liberals’ watch. They let the cost of housing skyrocket and capped and cut funding for homelessness prevention and shelter programs delivered by municipalities. Now Doug Ford is taking things from bad to worse by cancelling the minimum wage increase, ending the promising basic income pilot, slashing legal aid funding that often helped keep people housed, and cutting or freezing funding for provincial homelessness prevention programs.”
The City of Toronto’s latest Daily Shelter Census put occupancy rates for most types of shelters at or close to 100 per cent capacity.
“Ontarians believe housing is a human right, and New Democrats agree. The province should be doing everything in its power help Ontarians who are struggling to keep and put a roof over their heads,” said Berns-McGown. “That’s why I’m urging the Ford government to declare a state of emergency on homelessness and adequately fund shelters, as well as transitional, supportive, and rent-geared-to-income housing for people in need.”
Berns-McGown also renewed the NDP’s calls on the Ford government to build affordable housing and remove the cap on the number of overdose prevention sites, saying it’s more urgent now than ever.
“We need a new understanding of poverty and homelessness that stops blaming the victims of bad government policy and that supports Ontarians to live full lives in safe, dignified housing,” said Berns-McGown.
“It’s been a brutal decade for homeless people. In Toronto alone, approximately 3,000 more people are homeless than 10 years ago. Shelters are full. Tent encampments can be seen in London, Kingston and Peterborough. In Toronto they dot major thoroughfares. In many communities, the new norm is a second tier of shelters with lower standards that shelter people in conditions that resemble post-disaster scenarios. Deadly disease outbreaks such as Strep A have emerged; bedbugs and lice have re-emerged with a vengeance.
The Shelter and Housing Justice Network has launched a petition letter to Mayor John Tory with 25,000 signatures to date, demanding the mayor declare the city’s homelessness crisis an emergency and requesting the necessary resources and funding from the provincial and federal governments.”
Cathy Crowe, Toronto street nurse and member of the Shelter and Housing Justice Network
“In spite of federal, provincial, and municipal strategies and programs to end homelessness, an unprecedented number of individuals are living unsheltered in communities such as London. This is not for lack of good programs but because the need is rapidly outpacing our resources. If we are going to change the story on homelessness it is vital that we address it as the crisis that it is. More funding is needed immediately to enhance the capacity of housing and homelessness services.”
Abe Oudshoorn, Assistant Professor, School of Nursing, Western University