Are 400 new spaces enough for homeless?

City needs to act on this now — to prepare for next year

Last week the city of Toronto approved the addition of 400 spaces for people experiencing homelessness. With the winter weather approaching, these additions could be a matter of life and death.

The new spaces will come from current shelters, motels and drop-in centres. Mayor John Tory has quoted the cost of the plan at $10 million. The proposal was met with widespread approval in City Hall, however, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam was left disappointed after her own plans for the addition were rejected.

Wong-Tam was hoping to create additional space by opening armouries to people facing homelessness during the winter. Her proposal was thrown out after gaining only 17 out of 25 votes.

One of the factors against using the armouries is cost. To open them as shelters would require more than the $10 million from the current plans, although the exact amount is unclear.

The rejection of Wong-Tam’s proposal caused frustration among Toronto’s anti-homeless community. These extra beds would help keep hundreds more off the streets this winter. Mayor John Tory is hesitant to allocate funds to this temporary solution, although claims he will not rule it out. 

So the real question then is one of principle. Should the city provide the extra funding to help those experiencing homelessness this winter find shelter, or is it better to save that money and put it towards a long-term solution?

The State of Homelessness in Canada 2016 reported at least 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness in a year. The Toronto Star published an article in October claiming at least 70 people have died due to homelessness in Toronto already this year, before the snow has even started. The city is demanding a state of emergency. Tory has some decisions to make.

According to the Globe and Mail in 2015, the approximate cost of ending homelessness in Toronto would be $44 billion over 10 years. This would require finding more space (a scarcity in Toronto) for housing, funding programs to make that housing more affordable, and providing services to prevent homelessness in the city.

Ending homelessness is expensive and complex, but not impossible. San Francisco has more than 2,000 people facing homelessness on any given night, one of the highest counts in North America. The city’s nonprofit, Tipping Point Community, is raising $100 million to cut the city’s homeless population in half in five years. The organization has already raised $60 million for the cause. The money will be used to provide affordable housing, improve mental and physical health resources, and boost the capacity of the Bay Area.

The efforts put forth by city hall this winter will keep hundreds from dying this year, but what about next year? Tory needs to declare an emergency and begin tackling this issue with everything we have.