LEVY: More Band-Aids for homeless caught in a cycle of dependence

Asked how the city “measures success” with the more than $13 million extra it is plunking into respite shelters this winter, the general manager of shelter support and housing Paul Raftis responded that “it was all about providing the service” and better tracking users.

“We want to understand who we are serving and how we can serve those individuals better,” Raftis said in a TV interview Friday.

What he was essentially saying — if you translate the bureaucratic-speak — is that they intend to better refer transients to the 11 respite shelters and 600 beds they will provide this winter so no one is left out in the cold.

Of course no one wants the homeless to die out in the streets in the freezing cold this winter.

Trouble is, that’s where the city’s aspirations seem to end.

When Raftis announced Friday that 11 respite sites — with 600 beds and three of them housed in $2.5 million pre-fabs with no windows — will open starting next Thursday, I was both angry and sad.

More money is yet again being thrown at the problem with no targets whatsoever for actually reducing the number of people on the streets and getting them the help the need.

The results of the city’s latest homeless census — done in April after five long years — won’t be out until the end of this month, long after the winter respite care program commences.

I hesitate to even call it respite care.

As costly they are, the city’s low-barrier shelters are the lowest of the low, nothing more than an expensive Band-Aid that fosters a cycle of dependence. They provide a handout instead of a hand-up.

Make no mistake, these low-barrier respite shelters at $105-per-client per night will do nothing more than warehouse the homeless and their pets, provide them hot meals and a roof over their heads, along with some medical care if necessary.

What’s worse is that some seriously troubled — addicted and mentally ill — transients are being crammed together in tight spaces with no supports whatsoever, no help with basic skills, employment, their addictions and whatever other issues trouble their souls.

Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

No wonder, as experience has shown in the past year, they pour out onto the streets wreaking havoc in the surrounding neighbourhoods.

I’ve seen it time and time again since I first started studying the homeless in 2002. The latest was at the 21 Park Rd. shelter when it first opened last December. On a freezing cold Boxing Day, I walked in to see homeless sitting on stools and couches tightly clutching their possessions.

The only form of entertainment seemed to be that offered by a  few laptops. Two recognized me and wanted very much to tell me their stories.

I’m going to bet many of the same transients are still there a year later, although city officials refused to answer that question Friday.

This is by no means a new phenomenon.

But the numbers have certainly ramped up in the past four years since Mayor John Tory came to power (egged on by NDP councillors Joe Cressy and Mike Layton).

In 2014 there were 4,303 shelter beds (including motel rooms) costing on average $75 per night. This winter there will be close to 7,700 shelter beds at a rate of $105 per client per night. That’s a 79% increase in the number of beds and a 40% increase in the per diem.

It doesn’t include the Out of the Cold programs operating in churches and synagogues from November to April.

What troubles me more than anything is there are at least 1,200 rentable Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) units sitting vacant, mostly bachelors and one-bedrooms, that could easily accommodate some of those who have found their way to the city’s shelters or the chronic homeless.

I often wonder whether the city’s shelter bureaucrats really care, or listen, or think outside the box.

They certainly give the impression that they don’t want to reduce the cycle of dependence.

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2018-19 RESPITE SITES

  • 323 Dundas St. E. (50 beds)
  • 25 Augusta Ave. (50)
  • 354 George St. (105)
  • 705 Progress Ave. (49)
  • 21 Park Rd. (30)
  • 201 Cowan Ave. (21)
  • 545 Lake Shore Blvd E. (200)
  • Queen Elizabeth building, Exhibition Place (200)
  • 1155 King St. W, Lamport Stadium parking lot (100)*
  • 351 Lake Shore Blvd E. (100)*
  • 701 Fleet St. (100)*

(*Pre-fab locations)

Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies