In the midst of what an outreach worker called a “gigantic systemic collapse,” people pushing for social change in the city feel revived.
In two days, an organization that advocates for the rights of prisoners, in collaboration with other community groups, has raised about $ 96,000 to keep the city’s out-of-town population warm, as many townhouses remain crowded and temperatures plummet.
The city announced the opening of heating centers when the weather forecast went into effect on January 7, but spokesmen said no beds were available for people who needed them.
“The amount of money we’re been able to raise – it’s giving you one more little wind in this work to keep going,” said Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project organizer Lindsay Jennings, adding that they saw more than 1,500 individual donations. “It shows how much society can mobilize and that we do not necessarily need John Tory or other officials to get what we need for our people.”
On Monday, the Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project released a urgent call for donations to social media to provide tents, warm clothes and other necessities for people who would prepare for a freezing night without a roof over their heads. An alarm for extremely cold weather was applicable for the city when the temperature dropped to -26 C.
‘No one deserves to die frozen on the street. Every person deserves dignity and a warm place to live. “Please help us keep each other safe by providing financial support for survival supplies to our homeless relatives,” it read in the Instagram post.
After 24 hours, the fund reached $ 64,000.
With the money, the organization will work for the advocacy group for the rights of sex workers, Maggie’s Toronto, to place bulk orders of supplies and distribute them to pickup locations throughout 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, so that each organization can decide how best to meet the needs of their communities.
While donations have been helpful, Sanctuary’s outreach organizer Lorraine Lam said what we see is a “gigantic systemic breakdown,” pointing to the lack of indoor space and isolation beds. This forces people to survive with everything they have access to, such as tents and sleeping bags, she adds.
“Homelessness is rising, with deferrals continuing and people losing jobs because of COVID and not being able to pay rent,” Lam said. “City data shows that more and more people are entering the shelter 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 camps, seven days a week, to encourage them to come indoors and to hand out blankets. “Sleeping bags and a warm winter. Clothes. Additional street-seeking teams have been deployed during extremely cold weather warnings.”
The city also said that although demand was high for hotspots on the cold Monday night, there were vacancies in various locations, adding that they are available via TTC and tokens are available on the city’s drop-in programs.
However, it is a different story on earth, Lam explains, noting that there are only four heating centers in the entire city, and only two of them are in the center.
It is still urgent as temperatures this weekend are expected to reach below -20 C.
The “Survival Fund” still accepts e-transfers and new or gently used items. People are encouraged to donate items directly to Unity Kitchen at 10 Trinity Square from Monday to Friday between 6 p.m. 10.00 and 15.00
Another way people can help is by donating to Prisoner Emergency Support Fund, said Jennings. The foundation helps prisoners afford the necessary and phone calls to friends and family, helps newly released prisoners with housing and food, and ensures that relatives can make phone calls and canteen purchases.
People can also help by donating their time; to be informed of the systemic issues at stake and write to their local city council members to act, Lam stressed. She says the problem also starts with the criminalization of poverty, archaic social assistance rates and a decades-long waiting list for affordable housing for a single person, to name a few.
Symptoms of these failures include the emergence of camps and the relocation to evict the people living there, rather than relocating in a hurry to find long-term solutions, Lam said. She stressed that the extra $ 25 million recently approved by Toronto police for is money that could be invested in the solutions and bring the people of the city to a situation where they no longer “constantly react.”
“This is an election year,” Lam added. “What we really want to do is change the realities that lead to this.”
On Tuesday, various shelters across the city were at full capacity, with the average occupancy rate in shelters programs at about 99.7 percent. In addition, 46 shelters and relief sites across Toronto experienced COVID-19 outbreaks from Wednesday with 345 active cases and one hospitalization.
On Tuesday, 12 names were added to the memorial for the homeless. In December, a record with 34 names was added. “These policies are life and death,” Lam said.
Jennings said part of the problem is that people who are released from prisons usually do not have vaccine documentation and are not tested for COVID-19 before traveling. If they are seeking access to shelters or looking for priority for a recovery or isolation site, they require a positive test, she said.
“When you’re not eligible for access to certain types of support, such as COVID sites, due to a gap in services, people fall through the cracks,” she said. “Support is not created to help individuals integrate, which then contributes to the recidivism and imprisonment cycle.”
The city of Toronto said in an email that it recognizes that there is still a high demand for shelter services, which is why it has developed a winter service plan that has continued to expand the number of vacancies for people to be indoors this winter. It added that it has renewed calls on government partners to continue working together 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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