UHN apologizes for Toronto General vent grate that's 'hostile' to the homeless

The University Health Network (UHN) apologized Wednesday for installing a grate over a vent outside of the Toronto General Hospital's Emergency Department to specifically deter homeless people and says it will be removed.

Emergency department grate was installed specifically to deter homeless people, OHN president says

UHN says it will remove a grate intended to prevent homeless people from sleeping in front of Toronto General Hospital's Emergency Department. (eHealth Devs/Twitter)

The University Health Network (UHN) apologized Wednesday for installing a grate over a vent outside of the Toronto General Hospital's Emergency Department specifically to deter homeless people from sleeping there, and says it will be removed. 

"I have learned over a long career that when you make a mistake, you step forward, own it and then move on," UHN's interim president and CEO Dr. Charlie Chan said in a statement.

"Given our responsibility to provide compassionate care, it has indeed been seen as hostile and not something a hospital should be doing, given the care we provide to everyone who comes through our doors."

Chan said the grate was installed because the area sees significant traffic from cars, ambulances and people. There were also safety concerns with garbage and needles. 

"In solving that problem, we created the impression that we are unfeeling and unconcerned about the needs of the homeless," Chan added. "Of course, this isn't true. People at UHN are kind, compassionate and provide daily care for people who don't have a home."

Emergency staff have tried to help homeless: UHN

UHN spokesperson Gill Howard told CBC's Metro Morning last Thursday that many Toronto General Emergency staff have already tried to help the homeless in front of the hospital. 

"The people in that department know a great deal about why people are homeless and what we could do for them," she said. "I would say the staff in our emergency department actually know those people by name. They know their circumstances. They've tried to get them help." 

Cara Chellew documents architecture that discourages the use of public space, or what she calls "defensive design" in Toronto. She was one of the many who criticized the installation of the grate. 

"Being outside of a hospital, a place that's supposed to be a refuge, a place for people to get help, I think it sends a very strong message to vulnerable populations that they're not wanted there," she told Metro Morning

In addition to removing the grate, Chan added that the hospital's Security and Facilities staff will work to ensure that the area will be safe. He also said UHN would work with emergency department staff to help those who are homeless. 

"I certainly recognize that this a problem that is bigger than UHN," Chan added. "I want you to know that people's concerns and compassion have made a difference."

Howard told Metro Morning that the UHN was already looking at ways to help the homeless. 

"The problem is the resources that are available, the time that's needed to get people into those resources and the places that they should be and could be for help and how we get them there," she added.

"We're looking at that. How can we do a better job of being ready and able to have somebody go to somewhere where they can be helped."

With files from Metro Morning