CBC News reports that at least eight homeless people have died in Toronto since mid-October. Cathy Crowe, a street nurse, filmmaker and homelessness activist, who works daily with Toronto’s homeless, urges Mayor John Tory to declare a state of emergency on homelessness.
"This is the first year that everyone that works in the [homelessness] sector is saying, 'It has never been this bad,'" said Crowe, who wants the city to increase the number of shelter beds by 2,000, and provide additional funding to homeless outreach agencies.
"I listened to a press conference this morning that was quite passionate and it was about the number of trucks that will be out on the road salting," Crowe said. "I listened with amusement because I don't hear that level of urgency to people's lives who are homeless."
In fact, the United Way recently created a campaign to raise awareness of Toronto’s homeless crisis with its rendering of its unignorable tower. It shows that if it were to house all the homeless in Toronto, the tower would have to be approximately two and a half times the height of the CN Tower.
Toronto has been experiencing an unusually cold November. Bitter wind chills near -20 on Wednesday, made for another day of record-breaking cold temperatures across southern Ontario.
The most recent death happened this past Tuesday morning in a parking lot near Queens Quay West and Dan Leckie Way.
A man and double-amputee who friends identified only as “Richard” spent most of his time in the Music Garden, a park on Toronto’s waterfront near Queen’s Quay and Spadina Avenue, since he didn’t feel safe in the shelter system.
"He had a really optimistic viewpoint on life, despite having had so many terrible things happen to him," said Jennifer Evans, a long-time friend. While Richard’s death is the first since the snowfall, Crowe says that the homeless have been suffering since the summer weather turned into harsh conditions.
"It really ... does not feel like the city is putting enough attention [on this]," said Crowe, who has expressed frustration with city officials’ lack of action.
Last week, the city unveiled its winter plan that includes a new centre operated by the Homes First Society in the area of Yonge Street and Finch Avenue for the homeless and for asylum seekers. The centre will offer beds for over 200 adults and provide overnight accommodation and specialized supports through various community agencies, including the city’s Newcomer Office.
"A range of new services will be provided this year that are targeted to the specific needs of people experiencing homelessness," the city said in a release. While there are currently more than 7,100 spaces in the city's shelter system, Crowe says that isn't nearly enough to meet the demand. The truth is, many of the city’s homeless choose to remain outside rather than go to a shelter for reasons outlined here.
As for Richard, friends wish he could have received better supports.
"You could tell it was a daily struggle for him in so many ways, his chair would get caught or wouldn't work or people would harass him out of the washrooms," Evans said, noting that Richard would spend his time writing poetry.
"He still had this incredible love for life, and that's one of the reasons why it's so painful to see him go.”