Strathcona residents say Toronto shelter hotels failed promise of permanent housing – Toronto

Jason Costate recently celebrated his one year anniversary off drugs like meth and fentanyl.

Before arriving at what was formerly the Strathcona Hotel in downtown Toronto, the costate had been forced out of three shelters due to fighting. But he said the privacy and dignity of having his own room in Strathcona helped him bounce back.

“[Narcotics Anonymous]meetings are on Zoom. We have a one-year tip for sobriety and now we have a sponsor,” said crane operator Costate. “I’m on methadone, but I want to go back to work.”

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The housing crisis: The harsh reality of those navigating Toronto’s shelter system at the brink of homelessness

The city began using hotels for people experiencing homelessness after hundreds fled shelters in March 2020 for fear of contracting COVID-19. Hotels replaced the campsites that emerged in the park and provided additional space for physical distancing.

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Residents of Strathcona told the Canadian Press that the hotel offered dignity they hadn’t experienced in a typical shelter in years. Or I could look at myself in the mirror.

In addition to the obvious social benefits, experts argue that stable housing for people experiencing homelessness also makes economic sense by reducing shelter and health care costs. It urged the city to consider converting some hotels into permanent shelters.

The city had previously announced plans to end its hotel program through 2023. In an email Thursday, spokeswoman Erin Whitton said the city council would “extend most temporary shelters through April 2024.” has approved,” he said.

Last week, Costate and other Strathcona residents were told they had until April 12 of this year to move, and the city said it was working to find them permanent homes and other shelters. rice field.

According to Costate, the shelter provider only gave him a day’s notice before he moved and offered to pay for a taxi to the shelter in Scarborough, about 17 kilometers from his current location. There is a support network there, including pharmacists.

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“Everyone is worried because they will come to you to let you know that you are leaving today,” he said. “They have already sent so many people out.”

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About 106 residents, including 13 couples in Strathcona, will secure places for 130 young people staying at another shelter hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, the Toronto Shelter, Support and Housing Authority said. He said he was moving to another shelter site because of this. April. Owners of the Hilton Garden Inn have decided to reopen the hotel later this year, Witton said.

“Relocating as many people as possible to permanent housing is a priority,” Witton said. “Shelter residents are encouraged to continue working with staff to develop and implement permanent housing plans.”

But Costate said there has been no progress in finding his home, even though the Strathcona program is said to be the way to a permanent home.”I don’t believe in this city.” ‘ he said. “I was on the housing list for a long time.”

Diana Chan McNally, harm reduction case manager at the nonprofit All Saints Church, said years of waiting lists for assisted housing and a lack of shelter space could cause some residents to return to living on the streets. means that A customer after Novotel Hotel Center closed her shelter operations in December.

“We should have done a lot more to actually expropriate and buy these spaces and keep people in place because that is always the safest and healthiest thing to do,” she said. Told.

Transforming a hotel into a haven during a pandemic has come at a cost.

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According to a May 2022 report by the city’s Comptroller General, “In 2021, approximately $320 million will be spent in hotel rooms, including approximately $118 million in hotel rooms and $29 million in meals. It was spent on shelter operations.”

But Dr. Andrew Boozery, executive director of social medicine at the University Health Network, said the hotel program is good policy from both a health and economic perspective.

He said hotel shelters would reduce the spread of COVID and reduce emergency room visits and hospitalizations, while promoting improved mental health and chronic disease management.

“And that comes with sound economics,” he added, citing city data showing that providing emergency shelters is more expensive than maintaining stable housing.

“I truly believed that the hotel’s response would pave the way for permanent housing,” Bouzary said. “I remember sitting there thinking, there’s no way back. People have seen the cruelty of the homeless and a reality that too many people have been denied.”

Boozary said relocating hotel residents is risky because shelter space is in greater demand than it was before the pandemic.

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A policy that makes people “move” and cannot predict where someone will sleep “will undoubtedly worsen health conditions the next night or the next month and is contrary to the basic principles of human dignity,” he said. “Massive chaos is really cruel.”

According to Toronto Public Health data, by 2022, an average of three or more homeless people will die each week.

For the homeless population, data show life expectancy in 2022 is 55 for men and 42 for women, compared to 79 for men and 84 for women in the general population.

Shelter hotels are not the perfect solution.

Buzary and Chan McNally noted that overdose deaths are on the rise as some residents use drugs behind closed doors. However, both say they cannot deny that their quality of life has improved compared to living in shelters or public places.

“If you don’t actually act on the evidence and the compassion you need, you’re going to force so much suffering,” Buzary said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this in terms of how dire the situation is for undetained people and populations.”

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