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Open Letter to Address Toronto's Shelter Crisis

I have been working with Councillors Cressy and Fletcher on finding a way forward to address the Toronto shelter crisis. Today we are pleased to announce that the support of key supporters including Mayor Tory, we will be advancing critical measures needed to stem the growing shelter demand. 

At the January 17, 2018 meeting of the Community Development and Recreation Committee, I will table a motion that will ask City Council to introduce many immediate actions including the creation of 1000 plus new permanent shelter beds into the system by the end of 2018 and to extend the winter emergency measures beyond their original closing of April 15 until these beds are officially in operation.

The shelter crisis has shown City Council that it is imperative that we work together to ensure that our shelter system provides a safe, stable place that all residents can access when needed.

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Join me for my Budget Town Hall on Gender Responsive Budgeting

Join us on January 18, 2018 for Councillor Wong-Tam's Town Hall on Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB). The evening will feature a fireside chat with Canada's Finance Minister Bill Morneau, expert panelists and facilitated round-table discussions on how Toronto can improve programs and services needed to build a more inclusive city. Please RSVP here.

Childminding and ASL interpretation will be available. If you expect to need childminding, please email Councillor Wong-Tam's office at councillor_wongtam@toronto.ca.
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In 2017, Councillor Wong-Tam hosted Toronto's first public forum on Gender-Responsive Budgeting (GRB). We discussed the many benefits of incorporating an intersectional gender equity lens when developing city budgets.

By placing a gender equity lens over the city budgets, we can ensure resources are more fairly allocated to serve ALL residents. Better budgets equal better services.

The truth is, despite the many commitments to equity, Toronto City Council has never adopted a woman-friendly budget. The waitlists for accessible childcare, recreation services, shelter supports, affordable housing and other essential services continue to grow.

C2kpUHPWQAIFTY3.jpgCommunity members gather for Councillor Wong-Tam's first ever Town Hall on Gender Responsive Budgeting in 2017. 

Cities across the world have created different forms of gender-responsive budgeting with the purpose of advancing gender equity. Even the 2016 federal budget contained a historic Gender Statement outlining the main challenges and economic inequalities facing Canadian women.

It's time for Toronto City Council to put talk into action.

Councillor Wong-Tam is working closely with diverse community advocates from across Toronto to ensure the city incorporates an intersectional gender equity framework over its budgets. This framework analyses the social, cultural and economic identities different women and men face and seek to redress disparities through careful allocation of public resources.

Gender-responsive budgeting encourage decision-makers to think about the multiple ways both men and women experience city services, which include municipal policy areas such as transit, housing, capital spending on roads and infrastructure, taxes and user fees.

It is important that we have fair access to the city budgets. Let's work together to build a Toronto where everyone can prosper and thrive.
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Toronto needs to open the armouries and 1000 new permanent shelter beds

Almost a month after my motion asking to open the federal armouries to shelter the homeless was defeated, I'm happy to know Mayor Tory has reconsidered his position on the Moss Park Armoury. We've lost time and now need to work fast to get this done.

Opening the Exhibition Place’s Better Living Centre to homeless for winter respite is a step in a good direction but it still falls short of a permanent solution. Toronto needs to open the armouries and 1000 new permanent shelter beds.

City staff have been working hard to deliver the temporary fix of adding 400 spaces with more hotel beds, wedging more beds into existing crowded spaces and now using the cavernous Better Living Centre. This is commendable but a flawed plan nevertheless. Every year activists force City Council to do more to help the homeless and to elevate the overcrowded shelter system. From the 24-hr women's drop-in centres, to the warming and winter respite centres. Each time it's been community pressure that got results.

I think that are good people on every side of this discussion and although work is being done, I agree with street nurse and activist Cathy Crowe, Sistering and many others that the band-aid solutions are dangerous and not enough. Ward 27 has 25% of the permanent shelter beds in the systems (not counting hotel beds) and my community says they need help. The front line workers, managers, clients and the neighbourhoods that host shelter services are looking to City Hall for workable and real solutions.

I have spoken to front line workers from city-operated shelters who are burnt out and extremely demoralized. They don't want to turn people away but have to because their shelters are full. Then they can't refer people to another shelter because everyone else is full. Every category of shelters is above the 90% occupancy. It's misleading to count the 1352 hotel beds as a part of the permanent shelter system. Subtracting that from the real permanent beds then the shelter system only has 4117 beds. Far short of the 5387 beds needed last night.

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To make up 400 "new shelter spaces" created in the Mayor's plan, staff will be adding another 200 hotel beds and counting them again as new "shelter beds." When politicians boast about adding 1000 new shelter beds last year to the system, this is how they do it. With hotel beds.

To relieve the overcrowded system staff are adding more winter respite centres. Let me be clear, these shouldn't be counted as new permanent shelter beds. They don't meet the standards. Like the volunteer-run, temporary Out of the Cold program, by April they'll be shut down.

The rise of homelessness in Toronto is a crisis. Even if one is unwilling to declare an emergency, we are in big trouble and trends are confirming it. Open the armouries and let's commit to create 1000 new and real shelter beds in 2018. Lives are depending on it.

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After we open the Armouries, we need to create 1000 new permanent shelter beds in 2018. When the Out of the Cold programs and winter respite centres close in April, an even bigger shelter crisis is before us.

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City of Toronto opens two 24/7 warming centres

The City of Toronto has announced the opening of two 24/7 warming centres to provide additional relief for homeless individuals and their pets.

"We continue to explore all options and opportunities to protect our city's most vulnerable residents," said Mayor John Tory. "These warming centres provide accessible immediate relief during Extreme Cold Weather events and are in addition to the City's other winter respite services."

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The overnight warming centres, located at Metro Hall, 55 John St., and Regent Park Community Centre, 402 Shuter St., will operate 24/7 daily beginning this evening at 7 p.m. and continuing until the current Extreme Cold Weather Alert is terminated.

The Regent Park Community Centre warming centre will be operated by the City's Office of Emergency Management in conjunction with the Canadian Red Cross and provide 100 cots, meals, showers, hygiene kits and referrals to additional supports. Metro Hall will be accessible 24/7 for the same time period and provide drop-in access to a warm, welcoming space. Toronto Paramedic Services will have a dedicated resources available at both warming centres in the evenings to provide assistance to those in need. 

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Happy Holidays from Ward 27!

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