LEVY: Homeless from outside city put pressure on Toronto shelters


They come by taxi, bus and directly from Pearson Airport to avail themselves of Toronto’s shelter services.

According to reports which first came to light at a city committee last week, a homeless person recently turned up at the Peter St. assessment and referral centre in a cab — sent from a Brampton social service agency.

“You are right … there are an increasing number of stories of people arriving at our services,” Mary-Anne Bedard — general manager of shelter, support and housing —  told Councillor Mark Grimes that day. “They are being put in a cab from other social service agencies in Brampton and other GTA services.”

There was a pregnant pause in the committee room although those in attendance — most particularly leftist councillors — would never consider connecting the dots that declaring Toronto a Sanctuary City (as council so magnanimously did three years ago) and continuing to spend oodles of money to address the demand might have helped create the problem.

In addition to the refugee issue, those coming from outside Toronto are creating huge pressures on Toronto’s shelter system.

In an interview last week, Bedard said some 22% of the non-refugees currently being housed have been in Toronto for less than a year — confirmed by their most recent (2018) Street Needs Assessment.

She said they’ve had people sent to them directly from Pearson airport — that the airport personnel give those with nowhere to go the Peter St. address — or from agencies in regions where they’re unable to access services.

“They (the regions) suggest people come to Toronto because we have shelter or their services are actually full,” she said.

As Bedard showed in her presentation to committee last week, the city has increased its number of shelter beds from 4,319 in 2015 some 76% to 7,585 beds last year. The investment in these beds have more than doubled from $158 million to $375 million in just four years.

She also noted that the City of Toronto has the most shelter beds per capita in Canada — some 247 per 100,000 people. By contrast Peel Region has 37, Durham Region, 18, and York Region, 14.

Bedard said the homeless are not just coming from Oshawa, Brampton and Mississauga but from Ottawa, Hamilton, Newmarket, Sault Ste. Marie and St. Catharines.

She said that while this influx has existed for a while, it’s “more common” since the city has been experiencing the large influx of newcomers to Toronto — either from Nigeria or the ones coming from the U.S. through the border crossing at Roxham Rd.

Janice Sheehy, commissioner of human services in Peel Region, insisted Peel’s shelters have a “no-turn-away policy” and if no beds are available, the overflow protocol is enacted which makes use of local hotels and motels.