Shelter crisis leaves homeless woman injured after being hit by a car, sleeping on a mat
K.A.'s only place to sleep the night she was hit by a car was on the floor of a drop-in centre. The overloaded shelter system was unable to find a bed for her.
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The swelling around her eye has gone down, the bruises have faded, but she’s still in pain, is still unable to use her left arm.
“I can’t even tie my shoes. I’m 44 years of age and I just feel like a total invalid,” she said.
K.A., a homeless woman living in Toronto, was hit by a car at Parliament and Bloor in the early hours of December 7.
“I was walking across the street and this car from nowhere, ding, boom. I don’t remember hitting his dashboard; I remember hitting the ground. That’s all I remember,” she said.
Her shoulder was broken. Her body was bruised, and she had a gash above her left eye, but her only place to sleep that night was a yoga mat on the floor of a drop-in centre, she said.
It was five days before she got a bed in respite care, said Jessica Slotnick, a community health worker at Street Health, who’s worked with K.A. for about four years.
Slotnick said she made repeated attempts to find K.A. a shelter bed earlier with no luck.
At the hospital, Slotnick said she tried to get K.A. referred to respite care, but was told they don’t take same-day admissions and they were full. Later, back at Street Health, she called the central shelter intake. After waiting on hold for half an hour, she was told there as no space but she could try back in several hours.
At the end of the day, a mat at the drop in centre was the only choice, she said.
“She’s a lovely person. She’s really funny and caring,” Slotnick said. “It was hard sending to her over there or going over the next day and seeing her sleeping on a mat in pain and suffering.”
“It’s so frustrating that, in Toronto, we have this amount of homeless people and this much need and we can’t help them. It’s a crisis and the city won’t declare it as such,” she said Thursday at Street Health.
Earlier in the day, the city announced it would open 100 spots for homeless people at the Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place — 20 spaces immediately and 80 more in January.
Council also voted earlier this month to open 400 new shelter spaces, but decided not to ask the federal government to open city armouries for emergency shelter or to open 1,000 new beds more urgently.
“It’s not enough,” Slotnick said of Thursday’s announcement. “There are still hundreds more people that need somewhere to stay.”
The city has a target of 90 per cent capacity in the emergency shelter system, but it would need more than 1,000 new beds to meet it, she said.
The city’s latest figures show the system at 95 per cent capacity; more than 5,380 people were using the shelters on Dec. 20.
Those numbers don’t include people who are couch-surfing, using the warming centres or the 24-hour drop-ins, said Slotnick, who added that a 2013 street count found there are also more than 400 people sleeping outside on any given night.
For K.A., who is now in respite care, things are “a lot better.”
“First of all, it’s better because you have a proper bed to sleep in,” she said. “It’s a place that you can just heal, mentally, physically.”
While Slotnick hasn’t faced finding a bed for someone in so much pain before, she said it’s regularly a challenge to find clients a bed in a shelter or detox centre.
More shelter beds are needed, she said, but it’s only a “Band-Aid.”
“In the long run, these people need housing and there isn’t housing. People like (K.A.), who have been homeless for, I think she said, 11 years . . . she needs somewhere to go. She needs a safe place. She needs a roof over her head,” she said.
People using the Ontario Disability Support Program or Ontario Works can’t afford to rent a room in Toronto; they need affordable housing, but there’s not enough, said Slotnick.
More than 90,000 households are waiting for social housing in Toronto, the city data shows.
“Because of that, you have shelters that are overcrowded and people with no place to stay,” she said.
With files from David Rider and Samantha Beattie
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