Winter cold snap reveals another dimension of Toronto’s housing crisis

When people think about Toronto’s housing crisis they often think about rising rent prices and the growing difficulty to buy a house. However, the increasing unaffordability of the city has pushed many individuals into homelessness. The recent extreme cold temperatures brought Toronto’s growing homeless population to the forefront, and the city’s inability to deal with the crisis entered mainstream conversation.

The city’s homeless population, an estimated 5,253 in 2013 (a number that is expected to increase in the 2018 report), is one of the most vulnerable populations in Toronto. At the height of the cold snap, 98% of the city’s shelters were at full capacity, causing a public panic that led to thousands of Torontonians to sign a petition demanding the opening of Moss Park Armoury as an emergency shelter. The petition ultimately resulted in City Council successfully voting to open the Armoury on January 3 which only temporarily helped to relieve the estimated 1000 bed shortage until the end of January.

On January 25, Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) revealed the city’s purchase of an Annex building which he plans to turn into a shelter that is expected to provide 90 new beds in April 2018. At a news conference, the councillor stated, “I want to be clear on the issue of shelters, that communities do not have a right to say no to shelters. If they did, we would have no shelters. Communities have a responsibility to work with their neighbours and cities to welcome shelters and to make them work for everybody.”

Solutions to Toronto’s housing crisis need to address and include the homeless and lower income population. For too long housing has been spoken about in terms of private developments and homebuyers rather than addressing the needs of individuals who are most affected by unaffordable housing. The city needs to invest in more shelters and subsidized government housing to create lasting solutions that make the city inclusive and diverse. Conversations about the housing crisis need to start addressing those whose lives are most affected and at risk by Toronto’s unaffordable housing.

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