Councillors in Toronto have voted to declare homelessness an emergency in the city and are urging higher levels of government to help them respond to the situation.
The city notes that the declaration – which is similar to ones made by Hamilton and Fort Erie – does not trigger any immediate additional funds or resources from other levels of government.
The move comes as Toronto’s shelter system has come under significant pressure.
City councillors have also voted to lower the threshold for when warming centres will be opened for those seeking shelter.
This past winter, warming centres opened when temperatures dipped to -15 C, or -20 C in Toronto – that would change to -5 C next winter or when freezing rain, snow or storm warnings are issued.
But the city says it won’t be able to operate warming centres from Jan. 1, 2024 onwards without additional funding, and council has approved a recommendation to request $5 million from the federal and provincial governments.
Toronto Public Health supported a city staff recommendation earlier this year to lower the threshold to open warming centres, and advocates have long criticized the current temperature criteria as cruel and arbitrary.
City council also voted to urge the provincial and federal governments to add $20 million to the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit. The rent supplement pays the difference between 30 per cent of the recipient’s household income and the average market rent in the area.
A city staff report had estimated an extra $20 million could help transition upwards of 1,600 people from the shelter system into rental market housing.
Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie said the city needs help from other levels of government to address homelessness.
“We are doing everything we can as a City government to help people experiencing homelessness,” she wrote in a statement.
“I thank our partners in other orders of government for previous commitments that have been honoured, but more needs to be done together.”
Toronto has repeatedly asked the other levels of government for help covering a nearly $1-billion shortfall in the city’s 2023 fiscal plan, in part tied to increases in pandemic-related shelter costs, but no bailout was included in the recent provincial or federal budgets.