A recent study by anti-poverty groups in Toronto suggests the city is lurching toward a breakdown because of overcrowded homeless shelters. Activists say the city is failing to meet the basic requirements of its homeless population.
The findings were compiled by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. In summing up its report, the coalition says conditions imposed on those who access the system are also failing to provide health-sustaining facilities or offering conditions that respect human dignity. It says not everyone who needs it will get shelter on any given night.
Jessica Hales, a Toronto nurse, was one of the investigators who compiled the report. She says the homeless shelters in Toronto are in a crisis situation.
"Only two locations offered pillows. People were only given one blanket. Many facilities did not have enough bathrooms for the amount of people at their facilities. Places running out of blankets and mats forcing people to sleep on the bare floor, across chairs and just running out of physical space so people were sleeping in hallways and under tables and things like that," said Hales.
Hales says the situation compels people denied emergency beds to sleep on the street or in stairwells or remain in unsafe relationships. Of the more than 100 people interviewed, about 80% said they had been denied a bed because the shelters were full.
According to city statistics, the total capacity of the shelters is nearly 4,400. Even the backup shelters run by charities such as 'Out of the Cold' are struggling to cope.
There have also been complaints about unfriendly staff at shelters, bed bugs and lice, theft, drug or alcohol use, and poor food quality. There have also been documented illness outbreaks at city shelters.
Activists want the city to provide new shelter spaces, including opening up federal armories for emergency beds, to prevent further loss of shelter beds and protect and expand social and affordable housing.
Hales says the city is aware of the issues but, so far, has done little.