Homeless Crisis Demands Our Immediate Attention

In 2015, the news of a man found dead in a bus shelter on a cold January night shocked the city of Toronto. People were appalled, with many calling for new measures to ensure this never happen again.

Sadly, such deaths have happened multiple times since then, with one week in 2022, it is suggested, seeing at least three cold-related deaths. Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, meanwhile, is now reporting a dramatic increase in the number of cold-related injuries it sees.

We can name many of the issues underpinning this ongoing tragedy: a shortage of shelter beds; a dislike on the part of some homeless people of the shelter system; pandemic conditions reducing the number of shelter beds available.

But recognizing the problems and repairing them are two different issues. The bottom line, simply, is this: any death related to cold in this country that could have been avoided is simply unacceptable.

We cannot solve the great challenges of the world overnight, but we certainly can work harder to offer remedies, especially at a time when we are still basking in the glow of Christmas, a season that has a housing crisis at its very core.

A start would be to create more warming centres where people could escape the brutal cold. On top of the practical response a warming centre offers by providing an escape from the elements, it also signals a community that cares, both to the users of the centres and to other citizens who may have been oblivious to the need. A caring society is more likely to respond effectively to the crisis of homelessness and we clearly need to care more.

So far this winter, Toronto has been criticized as slow to respond to the needs of those living on the streets, in spite of brutal weather forecasts. On top of responding in a timely manner, though, we clearly need more services available as a tough economy forces more people onto the streets.

Plans to increase affordable housing take more time. There are buildings to be built, and bylaws to be amended. But a call to your city councilor’s office to let staff know housing issues are important to you is one way to keep attention focused on this issue and to move the process along, as well as to create more warming centres as an emergency stop-gap.

Some in the city are noting that Toronto recently found an extra $40-million to put toward policing. Let elected representatives know you care about the lives of the people living on the streets. If we have more money for policing, we should also have more money for the homeless.

It’s easy to be critical and judgmental, especially of people we do not know, and especially when the unavoidable reality of others’ pain makes us uncomfortable. It’s easier to point fingers than to share responsibility. But no matter what failings someone has, cold and hunger can kill. Every single person alive deserves a roof over their head and food to eat. If that is not our minimum expectation for all people we have a far, far way to go, not only as a society, but also as individuals.,

An open letter to Toronto Mayor John Tory, drafted by Rev. Alexa Gilmour, National Drector of the Stone Soup Network, is currently circulating, asking for an immediate increase in the number of warming centres in the city. Catholic Charities will be signing the letter, and we urge leaders of various denominations and faith-based agencies to sign as well. Here is the link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScT5rhTgR4CANU1QH1Mi3pVkWBcMNhssLqbUFJt75-VVPA_Ug/viewform

As winter digs in for the next several weeks, we are called to remember Matthew 25:40: “And the king will answer them, ‘Truly as I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”

Help shield our most vulnerable from the cold.

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