Toronto

More homelessness could spell trouble as winter approaches

As winter approaches, a prominent street nurse is expressing anxiety for the city’s many homeless people and their families.

‘The shelter system is full and we now have a second and third tier,' prominent street nurse says

A homeless man sits on the sidewalk on Adelaide Street during an extreme cold alert in Toronto. (David Donnelly/CBC)

As winter approaches, a prominent street nurse is expressing anxiety for the city's many homeless people and their families.

Cathy Crowe says enduring the harsh weather without a home and nowhere to go is nearly impossible.

"The shelter system is full and we now have a second and third tier," said Crowe Monday on CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

"It's Nov. 4th and we have no idea what the city is planning for this winter yet. They're calling a meeting to tell us but we have no idea."

Crowe says the current level of homelessness in the city is happening in spite of 7,000 shelter beds being available, an increase of 4,000 from 20 years ago.

Cathy Crowe, a street nurse and advocate for the homeless, worries that the city's shelter system doesn't have enough beds to deal with the demand this coming winter. (Laura DaSilva/CBC)

Additionally, Crowe says there are 2,100 people in the motel system that the city operates.

"[Homelessness is] growing. It's growing and it's younger, the population is sicker, but for me the hardest part is the changes at city hall," Crowe said.

"A smaller city council means it's harder to get attention to the issue."

Living in a tent on the sidewalk, woman explains why she won't go back to the shelter system; street nurse Cathy Crowe talks about the wave of people sleeping in tents on sidewalks downtown. 13:37

City adding beds to existing programs

The city says it has been taking steps to meet increasing demand for shelter.

These include adding beds to existing programs, opening new shelter programs, and expanding motels and shelter services, mainly for families.

"The current system capacity is over 2,800 more beds than were available November 1, 2016, including 2,350 beds added since that time to motel programs, largely for families," the city says on its website.

The following table shows the occupancy for Sunday night in all City of Toronto permanent shelter programs.

(City of Toronto)

A spokesperson for the mayor says under John Tory's leadership the city has added capacity to its shelter and respite system after almost a decade where no capacity to the system was added.

"The mayor has also advocated relentlessly for millions of dollars from the government of Canada to help address an influx of asylum and refugee claimants along with urging all governments to invest more funding in building supportive housing and more affordable housing to help people move out of the shelter system," Lawvin Hadisi wrote in an email.

"Mayor Tory remains committed to working with all governments and our allies in the non-profit and health sectors to help address homelessness."

'A turning point for the city'

Meanwhile, Crowe says the increasing number of tents springing up all around the city is a reflection of the issue of homelessness.

"There's settlements, not just under the Gardiner but in other places that are quite visible. They're organized . . . people are dug in there and they're there to stay," Crowe says.

"This is a turning point for the city and we're not taking it seriously enough. Frontline workers are, but the city is not."