Shelter Crisis Reveals Toronto's Health Crisis

Critical need for health care-- including mental health, harm reduction and other primary care supports in all shelters, drop-ins, respite centres, Out of the Colds, and warming centres.

There is no doubt of the compromised physical and mental health of many people whose only option to stay out of the freezing temperatures is to use the current drop-ins, warming centres, Out of the Colds, respite centres and shelters.

The over-crowded shelter system, with rules that erect barriers and restrict access, limits more and more where people with significant mental health, substance use and physical health issues can go. As a result, many people with significant health issues are accessing the new respite centres. The community services that are trying to support these persons have been chronically under-resourced. They do the best they can in these shared and under-funded spaces, to get people the health care and harm reduction resources they need and to deal with mental health crises as they arise. Staff are serving individuals with the most complex needs while having the fewest resources (not just in terms of staff but every line in their budgets).  The untreated health and social issues we are seeing include trauma, chronic disease, developmental disabilities, mental health issues, substance use and acquired brain injuries.

Street Health, Inner City Family Health Team, Inner City Health Associates,  and Community Health Centres provide essential health care where people are at: outside, in shelters, as part of a hub of services—but the needs for better crisis response and on-going supports are increasing with a subsequent greater complexity of health needs.

We are calling for substantive funding allocations to enable full primary care, harm reduction and mental health services in our drop-ins, Out of the Colds, respite centres and shelters. We are calling on the City and all three levels of government, especially the Ministry of Health and the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) – to urgently act -- if we are to prevent a major crisis. This is not solely a crisis of finding a spot for everyone who needs to come inside. If these spaces are going to be safe, dignified spaces that can respond to (and not cause) health crises; and can actually support better mental and physical health for persons without a home, we need to bring the experience and expertise of the community together with the commitment and funding from the City, as well as the Provincial and Federal governments.

And finally, we are asking for the creation of a strategy to ensure we are not perpetually responding reactively to ‘crises’ that are anticipated and inevitable. Winter comes to Canada every year.

The long-term goal is to create fully resourced supportive housing so that we can create a permanent solution to homelessness. Let’s start now.

Let’s all come together and bring the care that’s needed to the most vulnerable members of our community now and into the future.

Endorsed by: Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, Street Health, Fred Victor, The Haven, South Riverdale Community Health Centre, Regent Park Community Health Centre, The Toronto Drop-In Network, the Inner City Family Health Team, Inner City Health Associates, Sistering, and St. Stephen’s Community House.

For more information contact: Jo Connelly, Executive Director, Inner City Family Health Team, [email protected]; 416-997-4053.

Press Conference with community health providers, health professionals, and persons with lived experience of homelessness Where: City Hall in front of Committee Room #1 When: Tuesday, January 9th at 11:30 am Why: To report on the health crisis embedded within the shelter crisis

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