COVID-19 is taking a heavy toll on Toronto’s homeless

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The following is an excerpt from “Cooperative Funding: An Evaluation of Sustainability and Economic Vulnerability in Toronto,” a report which was recently presented to the Spadina Fort-York ONDP Riding Association. The paper aims to address the fundamental lack of community housing initiatives in Toronto, and suggest alternatives.

As stated by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH), the term ‘homelessness’ officially “[describes] the situation of an individual, family or community without stable, safe, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means and ability of acquiring it. It is the result of systemic or societal barriers, a lack of affordable and appropriate housing, the individual/household’s financial, mental, cognitive, behavioural or physical challenges, and/or racism and discrimination.”

This definition encompasses a range of living situations, which can include 1) Unsheltered living, which refers to a situation of absolute homeless, and living in public or private spaces that are either unintended for permanent human habitation; 2) Emergency sheltered living, which refers to an often temporary place of shelter, including overnight shelters, women’s shelters, and interval houses; 3) Provisionally accommodated living, in a situation of indefinite accommodation and temporary stability, such as with interim housing, rental accommodations, refugee situations, or non-permanent housing scenarios; and 4) In risk of homelessness, where the individual is not yet defined as ‘homeless,’ however their present socio-economic state and condition of living is precarious, and does not meet provincial public health and safety guidelines.

The Fred Victor organization determined that on any given day, over 9,200 people in the city of Toronto meet one of the definitions of homelessness. Shelters in the city generally reach an average occupancy rate of approximately 98 percent every night, and 76 percent of the homeless population claim that the key factor in improving their situation is “aid and accommodation in paying the high rents of the city.”

When looking at occupancy, and the quantity of homeless shelters in the city in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been reported that, as of August 7, more than 7,000 homeless individuals occupy shelters in Toronto. The capacity potential for these shelters was under 5,000 before the pandemic. As stated in a personal interview conducted with Canadian homeless advocate and ‘street nurse’ Cathy Crowe, “Homeless people have been last when it has come to federal, provincial, municipal strategies and with respect to COVID-19.”