News / Toronto

Toronto plan to invest in homeless shelters 'too little, too late:' Advocate

New beds won't replace those lost since start of the year, poverty coalition says.

With the closing of the Salvation Army's Hope Shelter at College and McCaul in April, the city shelter system is in desperate need of new beds.

Steven Goetz/For Metro

With the closing of the Salvation Army's Hope Shelter at College and McCaul in April, the city shelter system is in desperate need of new beds.

Advocates warn a city plan to pump $2.5 million into new shelter beds for the homeless is "too little, too late.”

City staff's proposed addition of 91 new beds won't even replace those already lost this year, said John Clarke, organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

"At most, it compensates for some shelters that have closed, but it comes nowhere near meeting their own promises," Clarke said.

In 2013, council set a target to lower occupancy rates to below 90 per cent.

Two years later, the system continues to operate at or near capacity. On Tuesday, for example, the occupancy rate was 95 per cent.

The total number of shelter beds has dropped to 4,280 from 4,476 in February.

Among the biggest closures are the Salvation Army's 124-bed Hope Shelter and the YWCA Beatrice House, a 70-bed family shelter. Next week, the 60-bed Second Base Youth Shelter will close, adding to the crunch.

"It's a grim situation," Clarke said.

Council added $2.5 million to this year's budget to pay for new beds and move the shelter system in the direction of its 90 per cent target.

A committee gave approval Thursday to spend most of the money on 91 new beds at eight sites across the city. Forty are expected to open by the end of the year, but the rest won’t be available until early next year, according to a city report.

Another 30 beds will be added to the system when an existing shelter in Scarborough can find a location to expand.

Phillip Abrahams, general manager of city shelters, said his team is working to find permanent housing for regular shelter users to free up bed spaces.

Asked directly if the shelter system is on track to lose capacity this year, Abrahams said only: "It's challenging."

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