Project Comfort aims to ease concerns ahead of temporary shelter opening in Liberty Village
The volunteer based initiative has already hosted meetings, raised clothing donations
A Toronto based group of volunteers is working to be a liaison between residents, the city and people experiencing homelessness ahead of temporary respite centres set to open in three locations over the next two months.
Patrick Quealey with Project Comfort said he saw some concerns on social media that the sites would have a negative impact on the neighbourhoods, and wanted to educate people on the issues.
"People seemed to be concerned on social media about whether this would affect their property value," Quealey said.
"There really is an affordability and a housing crisis."
Quealey said some of the concerns were whether the selected locations were suitable, and if there were enough supports in these areas to handle the temporary shelters.
The first respite centre is set to open next week in the parking lot of Lamport Stadium in Liberty Village. Two more locations at 351 Lakeshore Boulevard East and 701 Fleet Street are expected to open in January 2019. The insulated buildings are capable of housing 100 people each.
"Either way they are staying, so let's act to be a switchboard of information, learn who the people are who are using the centres and see how we can help."
In November, Project Comfort hosted local residents of Fort York, Liberty Village, City Place and area shelters. The hope was to engage attendees in an open dialogue. The group is also hosting a holiday gathering this month, and collected clothing donations for local shelters.
"Longer term, what I think we'd hope for is to work more closely with service providers and the city to see what is the end goal," Quealey said.
"Quite frankly, this isn't good enough. These will just become permanent shelters — we may not be reducing the level of folks on the street."
Temporary shelters are an immediate response
According to the city, the new 24-hour respite sites are being created in response to high occupancy in the permanent shelter system and the growing need for homelessness services.
The city says the number of people homeless in Toronto is due, in large part, to a significant increase in refugee and asylum claimants.
On December 10th, the number of people using temporary shelters was 909, with a 1040 capacity. Temporary shelters include 24-hour respite centres, 24-hour women's drop ins and the city's Out of the Cold program.
Mary-Anne Bedard, director of infrastructure and development with the city of Toronto admits the numbers are high.
"There's no denying that our numbers are high," Bedard said. "And they are higher than they were last year, but it's important to recognize we do have the capacity for the number of people looking to come in from the cold."
Bedard says the temporary shelters are an immediate solution to a problem the city is experiencing now, but there are longer term solutions in the works, such as the city's eviction prevention strategy.
"We're putting a lot of time and effort into helping people stabilize in their current housing, making sure they're able to stay there." Bedard adds that for people currently in a permanent shelter, there are efforts to help them move out as quickly as possible.
"Our system has been under consistent pressure for a number of years and we continue to experience that kind of pressure."
'An emergency situation'
Cathy Crowe is a street nurse and says an overflow system has developed in the last couple of years.
The 24-hour respite sites have only been operating since fall 2017.
Crowe says the number of people who have been using these temporary shelters in December is alarming.
"We reached almost 1000 people that are staying in situations that are not real shelters," she said. "They might be on a mat on the floor, they may be sleeping in a room with 199 other people."
The city has a plan to add 1000 new shelter beds by 2020, but Crowe is calling on the city to fast-track that date.
"It's essentially an emergency situation."