Toronto

Supportive housing should play 'critical' role in city's 10-year plan, says board of health

As the city develops a new 10-year housing plan, board of health chair Joe Cressy is calling for that planning to happen through a public-health lens with a push for supportive housing aimed at thouse with mental health and addiction issues.

Toronto needs 'range of housing options,' says board chair Joe Cressy

As the city develops a new 10-year housing plan, board of health chair Joe Cressy is calling for that planning to happen through a public health lens — with a focus on building more supportive housing. (Cole Burston/Canadian Press)

As the city develops a new 10-year housing plan, board of health chair Joe Cressy is calling for that planning to happen through a public health lens — with a focus on building more supportive housing for people with mental health and addiction issues.

Cressy, who is also the chair of the Toronto Drug Strategy Implementation Panel, wrote a letter to his fellow board members earlier this month, highlighting the need for a "a range of housing options that respond to the diverse needs of people in our community, including people who use drugs."

On Monday, the board backed his call for Toronto's medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen De Villa, to highlight the "critical" role of supportive and harm-reduction housing as part of the development of Toronto's next long-term affordable housing plan. 

"There's no pathway out of the shelters into supportive housing," Cressy said after the meeting, adding roughly 9,000 people are currently homeless in Toronto.

"Having adequate, appropriate housing — with the supports that allow people to enjoy good health — it's super important as far as public health is concerned," echoed De Villa.

One 2018 report using data from The Access Point, the coordinated access system for supportive housing in Toronto, stressed the demand for supportive housing "far outstrips supply," with more than 4,000 new applicants over a recent two-year period and fewer than 600 placements.

The report also noted the long wait times — two years or more for nearly 60 per cent of applicants — and the wide variety of support needs people face, from addressing drug and alcohol use, to preparing meals or managing medications.

"There's a high need," said Greg Suttor, one of the authors of the report, and a senior researcher at the Wellesley Institute.

Currently, he said roughly 15,000 people are on the Toronto waiting list for supportive housing for mental health and addictions, which includes many chronically homeless people.

Meanwhile, Toronto's shelter system is bursting at the seams — with the latest city data showing shelters catering to men, women, youth, and families are all at or near 100 per cent occupancy.

'There's no pathway out of the shelters into supportive housing,' board of health chair Joe Cressy said, adding roughly 9,000 people are currently homeless in Toronto. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

'More action is needed,' says Cressy

In his letter, Cressy noted the city is working to build more affordable housing stock, including through Mayor John Tory's Housing Now initiative to spark development at 11 city-owned sites. Still, "more action is needed," he wrote.

"For too long, we've operated in a situation where it's the provincial government who funds supportive housing, it's the city that deals with shelters," Cressy explained. "But it's time that we, all three levels of government, come together to end chronic homelessness and that means building supportive housing."

In January, Tory made a similar call to the federal government while attending a meeting of mayors in Ottawa, saying supportive housing for those with mental health and addiction issues is a "real solution" to the pressures facing Toronto's shelter system. 

Last year, council also requested that both the federal and provincial governments provide additional funding for up to 1,800 new units of supportive housing each year for 10 years.

About the Author

Lauren Pelley

City Hall reporter

Lauren Pelley is a CBC reporter in Toronto covering city hall and municipal affairs. Contact her at: lauren.pelley@cbc.ca

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