Toronto

Toronto stuck in 'vicious cycle' without enough supportive housing, councillor says

Amid what they are calling an ongoing homelessness "crisis," two councillors are calling on Toronto's city council to kick in funding to build 1,800 supportive housing units each year for the next decade. Their motion comes before council at its meeting this week.

Motion to council calls for city to help fund, build 1,800 units each year for next decade

Amid what they are calling an ongoing homelessness 'crisis,' two councillors are calling on Toronto's city council to kick in funding to build 1,800 supportive housing units each year for the next decade. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Amid what they're calling an ongoing homelessness "crisis," two councillors are calling on Toronto's city council to kick in funding to build 1,800 supportive housing units each year for the next decade.

The member motion, put forward by Coun. Joe Cressy, backed by Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, and headed to council's November meeting this week, stresses that this building target, set by council back in 2018, "remains unmet."

"I'm sick and tired of homeless people dying on our streets. I'm sick and tired of an annual debate to see how we can shelter, but not house, the homeless," Cressy told CBC Toronto.

"I think it's time we take a bold, big step as a city."

The motion calls on council to direct city staff to ensure one-third of the capital funds needed to hit the target are included in the city's 2020 operating and capital budgets, along with any operating dollars or staff needed to support the program — though an actual dollar figure for the proposal isn't set.

It also recommends councillors ask the provincial and federal governments to each put in a third of the funding, which the councillors hope would lead to the creation of 18,000 new supportive housing units by 2030.

If the motion doesn't get two-thirds support from council this week, it could be referred to the planning and housing committee.  

The renewed push for supportive housing — a form of affordable housing which combines shelter with social services — comes amid what many see as a homelessness "crisis," the motion notes.

"We cannot wait. Without new supportive housing this crisis will only continue to grow," it reads.

Thousands rely on the city's shelter system, which is at or over capacity every night, despite Toronto adding 2,500 beds to its emergency system since 2016. 

"We're stuck in a vicious cycle where the City of Toronto is responsible for shelters, and the other levels of government are responsible for supportive housing," Cressy said.

"Here's what keeps happening: We keep building shelters, and our homeless population has nowhere to go. They can't get out. It's time to build our way out of homelessness, and build a pathway out of shelters."

Housing may not require 'brand new units'

There is some supportive housing creation underway, with hundreds of units either being built or renovated throughout the city, according to one city report.

Even so, three years worth of numbers — 1,278 units expected for 2019, 2020, and 2021 combined — show the city is falling far short of council's 1,800-per year target, and a far cry from the high level of demand on the shelter network.

Sean Meagher, coordinator of the Housing Issues Network, believes there has been a failure to invest in supportive housing for quite some time.

He believes the new motion's approach, calling for Toronto to promise funds while requesting contributions from the province and federal government, has the potential to mimic the $1.3-billion partnership announced earlier this year to repair crumbling Toronto community housing units.

"Like most things, if you step up, the people around you are more inclined to feel some pressure to step up," Meagher said.

Cressy stressed that building supportive housing also doesn't necessarily mean spending extensive amounts of cash to start from the ground up. New programs, he said, could use vacant community housing units, existing city facilities, or even rooms in the private rental market coupled with subsidies and wraparound services.

"We can actually create these units without having to build brand new units," Cressy continued.

About the Author

Lauren Pelley

Toronto-based reporter

Lauren Pelley is a CBC reporter based in Toronto. Currently covering COVID-19, previously covered Toronto city hall and municipal affairs. Contact her at: lauren.pelley@cbc.ca

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