Cy­cle of de­pen­dence

More Band-Aids for home­less a re­volv­ing door

Toronto Sun - - NEWS - SUE-ANN LEVY slevy@post­media.com @SueAn­nLevy Scooplevy

Asked how the city “mea­sures suc­cess” with the more than $13 mil­lion ex­tra it is plunk­ing into respite shel­ters this win­ter, the gen­eral man­ager of shel­ter sup­port and hous­ing Paul Raftis re­sponded that “it was all about pro­vid­ing the ser­vice” and bet­ter track­ing of users.

“We want to un­der­stand who we are serv­ing and how we can serve those in­di­vid­u­als bet­ter,” Raftis said in a TV in­ter­view Fri­day.

What he was es­sen­tially say­ing — if you trans­late the bu­reau­cratic speak—is that they in­tend to bet­ter re­fer tran­sients to the 11 respite shel­ters and 600 beds they will pro­vide this win­ter so no one is left out in the cold.

Of course no one wants the home­less to die out in the streets in the freez­ing cold this win­ter.

Trou­ble is, that’s where the city’s as­pi­ra­tions seem to end.

When Raftis an­nounced Fri­day that 11 respite sites — with 600 beds and three of them housed in $2.5-mil­lion pre-fabs with no win­dows — will open start­ing next Thurs­day, I was both an­gry and sad.

More money is yet again be­ing thrown at the prob­lem with no tar­gets what­so­ever for ac­tu­ally re­duc­ing the num­ber of peo­ple on the streets and get­ting them the help the need.

The re­sults of the city’s lat­est home­less cen­sus — done in April af­ter five long years — won’t be out un­til the end of this month, long af­ter the win­ter respite care pro­gram com­mences.

I hes­i­tate to even call it respite care.

As costly as they are, the city’s low­bar­rier shel­ters are the low­est of the low, noth­ing more than an ex­pen­sive Band-Aid that fos­ters a cy­cle of de­pen­dence.

They pro­vide a hand­out in­stead of a hand-up.

Make no mis­take, th­ese low-bar­rier respite shel­ters at $105 per client per night will do noth­ing more than ware­house the home­less and their pets, pro­vide them hot meals and a roof over their heads, along with some med­i­cal care if nec­es­sary.

What’s worse is that some se­ri­ously trou­bled — ad­dicted and men­tally ill — tran­sients are be­ing crammed to­gether in tight spa­ces with no sup­ports what­so­ever, no help with ba­sic skills, em­ploy­ment, their ad­dic­tions and what­ever other is­sues trou­ble their souls.

No won­der, as ex­pe­ri­ence has shown in the past year, they pour out onto the streets wreak­ing havoc in the sur­round­ing neigh­bour­hoods.

I’ve seen it time and time again since I first started study­ing the home­less in 2002. The lat­est was at the 21 Park Rd. shel­ter when it first opened last De­cem­ber. On a freez­ing cold Box­ing Day, I walked in to see home­less sit­ting on stools and couches tightly clutch­ing their pos­ses­sions.

The only form of en­ter­tain­ment seemed to be that of­fered by a few lap­tops. Two rec­og­nized me and wanted very much to tell me their sto­ries.

I’m go­ing to bet many of the same tran­sients are still there a year later, al­though city of­fi­cials re­fused to an­swer that ques­tion Fri­day.

This is by no means a new phe­nom­e­non.

But the num­bers have cer­tainly ramped up in the past four years since Mayor John Tory came to power (egged on by NDP coun­cil­lors Joe Cressy and Mike Lay­ton).

In 2014 there were 4,303 shel­ter beds (in­clud­ing mo­tel rooms) cost­ing on aver­age $75 per night. This win­ter there will be close to 7,700 shel­ter beds at a rate of $105 per client per night. That’s a 79% in­crease in the num­ber of beds and a 40% in­crease in the per diem.

It doesn’t in­clude the

Out of the Cold pro­grams op­er­at­ing in churches and syn­a­gogues from No­vem­ber to April.

What trou­bles me more than any­thing is there are at least 1,200 rentable Toronto Com­mu­nity Hous­ing Cor­po­ra­tion (TCHC) units sit­ting va­cant, mostly bach­e­lors and onebed­rooms, that could eas­ily ac­com­mo­date some of those who have found their way to the city’s shel­ters or the chronic home­less.

I of­ten won­der whether the city’s shel­ter bu­reau­crats re­ally care, or lis­ten, or think out­side the box.

They cer­tainly give the im­pres­sion that they don’t want to re­duce the cy­cle of de­pen­dence.

TORONTO SUN FILES

RAFTIS Shel­ter man­ager

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