Communities supporting Toronto’s homeless raise nearly $100,000 in 2 days as temperatures plummet

In the midst of what one community worker called a “giant systemic meltdown,” people pushing for social change in the city feel reinvigorated.

In two days, an organization that defends the rights of prisoners, in partnership with other community groups, raised approximately $96,000 to keep the city’s homeless population warm, as many city shelters remain full and temperatures drop into chopped.

The city announced the opening of warming shelters when the weather alert was announced on Jan. 7, but advocates said no beds were available for those who needed them.

“The amount of money that we’ve been able to raise gives you another little second wind within this work moving forward,” said Lindsay Jennings, an organizer with the Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project, adding that they saw more than 1,500 individual donations. “It shows how much the community can mobilize and that we don’t necessarily need John Tory or other government officials to get what we need for our people.”

On Monday, the Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project published a urgent call for donations took to social media to provide tents, warm clothing and other necessities for people bracing for a freezing night with no roof over their heads. An extreme cold weather alert was in effect for the city when the temperature dropped to -26 C.

“No one deserves to freeze to death on the street. Every person deserves dignity and a warm place to stay. Please help us stay safe by providing financial support for survival supplies for our homeless relatives,” the Instagram post read. “

After 24 hours, the fund reached $64,000.

With the money, the organization will work with sex worker rights group Maggie’s Toronto to order supplies in bulk and distribute them at collection points across the city. The remaining money will be distributed equally to the organizations involved in the mutual aid initiative, including Maggie’s, Unity Kitchen, Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction and Sanctuary, for each organization to decide how best to meet the needs of their communities.

While donations have been helpful, Sanctuary outreach organizer Lorraine Lam said we’re seeing a “giant systemic collapse,” pointing to a lack of indoor space and isolation recovery beds. This pushes people to survive with whatever they can get their hands on, like tents and sleeping bags, he adds.

“Homelessness is on the rise, evictions continue, and people are losing jobs due to COVID and unable to pay rent,” Lam said. “City data shows that more and more people are entering the shelter system every month.”

The city of Toronto told the Star in an email that its Streets to Homes outreach team “continues to connect with those living outside and in the camps, seven days a week, to encourage them to come in and hand out blankets, sleeping and warm items for the winter.” clothing. Additional street outreach teams are deployed during extreme cold weather alerts.”

The city also said that while demand for warming centers was high on that cold Monday night, there were spaces available at several locations, adding that TTC can access them and tokens are available at city programs.

That’s a different story on the ground, though, Lam explains, noting that there are only four warming centers in the entire city, and only two of them are downtown.

The urgency continues as temperatures this weekend are forecast to dip below -20C.

The “Survival Fund” continues to accept wire transfers and new or gently used items. People are encouraged to donate items directly to the Unity Kitchen at 10 Trinity Square Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Another way people can help is by donating to the Prisoner Emergency Support Fund, Jennings said. The fund helps inmates pay for essential items and phone calls to friends and family, helps recently released inmates with room and board, and allows loved ones to make phone calls and canteen purchases.

People can also help by donating their time; educate yourself on the systemic issues at stake and write to your local councilors to get them to act, Lam emphasized. She says the problem also begins with the criminalization of poverty, archaic welfare rates and a decades-long affordable housing waiting list for a single person, to name a few.

Symptoms of these failures include the springing up of encampments and the movement to evict the people who live there, instead of moving urgently to find long-term solutions, Lam said. He stressed that the additional $25 million Toronto Police recently approved is money that could be invested in those solutions and bring the people of the city to a situation where they are no longer “constantly reacting.”

“This is an election year,” Lam added. “What we really want to do is change the realities that lead to this.”

On Tuesday, several shelters across the city were at full capacity, with an average occupancy rate in shelter programs around 99.7 percent. Additionally, as of Wednesday, 46 shelters and rest sites in Toronto were experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks, with 345 active cases and one hospitalization.

On Tuesday, 12 names were added to the Homeless Memorial. In December there was a record 34 names added. “These policies are life or death,” Lam said.

Jennings said part of the problem is that people leaving jails typically don’t have documentation of vaccinations and aren’t tested for COVID-19 before they leave. If they’re looking to access shelters or seek priority at a recovery or isolation site, they require a positive test, he said.

“When you’re not eligible to access certain supports, like COVID sites because of a gap in services, then people are left behind,” he said. “Supports are not put in place to help people fit in, which then contributes to recidivism and the cycle of incarceration.”

The city of Toronto said in an email that it recognizes there remains a high demand for shelter services, so it has developed a winter services plan that has continued to expand the number of spaces available for people to stay indoors this winter. He added that he has renewed calls for government partners to continue cooperative work to implement more housing solutions.

“The City is committed to engaging and working closely with all of our community partners and stakeholders to develop collaborative solutions to address homelessness.”

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