Declare a state of emergency on homelessness, street nurse urges Toronto mayor

A street nurse is calling on Toronto Mayor John Tory to declare a state of emergency on homelessness following the death of a man who lived in the Toronto Music Garden.

At least 8 homeless people have died in Toronto since mid-October, Cathy Crowe says

Street nurse Cathy Crowe says there is a shelter crisis in Toronto. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Toronto Mayor John Tory should declare a state of emergency on homelessness following the recent death of a man in a city parking lot, says a street nurse who works with the homeless. 

"This is the first year that everyone that works in the [homelessness] sector is saying, 'It has never been this bad,'" said Cathy Crowe.

Toronto police say they received a call at around 7 a.m. Tuesday morning about a deceased man in a parking lot near Queens Quay West and Dan Leckie Way.

When emergency crews arrived, they pronounced the man dead at the scene. 

While his name has not been released, friends have identified the man as Richard, a man believed to be homeless who spent most of his time in the Music Garden, a park on Toronto's waterfront near Queens Quay and Spadina Avenue. 

"He had a really optimistic viewpoint on life, despite having had so many terrible things happen to him," said Jennifer Evans, who personally knew Richard for about five years.

Jennifer Evans says she learned about Richard's death while out walking her dog Tuesday morning. (Darek Zdzienicki/CBC)

It's believed to be the first homeless death since the first snowfall of the season, and Crowe says there have been at least eight homeless deaths since mid-October.

"It really ... does not feel like the city is putting enough attention," said Crowe on how city officials are dealing with the issue of homelessness.

More beds needed

Last week, city officials announced a winter services plan that included additional temporary beds for homeless people at several locations.

"A range of new services will be provided this year that are targeted to the specific needs of people experiencing homelessness," the city said in a release. 

While there are currently more than 7,100 spaces in the city's shelter system, Crowe says that isn't nearly enough to meet the demand.

Crowe wants the city to increase the number of shelter beds by 2,000, and provide additional funding to homeless outreach agencies.

"I listened to a press conference this morning that was quite passionate and it was about the number of trucks that will be out on the road salting," Crowe said.

"I listened with amusement because I don't hear that level of urgency to people's lives who are homeless."

'So painful'

Evans says she met Richard at the Music Garden. 

She says Richard was a double amputee who refused to go into shelters because he didn't feel they were safe spaces for him. 

"You could tell it was a daily struggle for him in so many ways, his chair would get caught or wouldn't work or people would harass him out of the washrooms," Evans said. 

Despite his challenges, she says Richard spent his time writing poetry.

"He still had this incredible love for life, and that's one of the reasons why it's so painful to see him go," Evans said.


Alvin Yu

CBC staff

Alvin Yu is an associate producer, senior writer and social editor/presenter for CBC News: The National. Yu set his sights on journalism early — as a kid, he would anchor the news in the shower, hoping one day to make it to the big screen.

With files from Kelda Yuen