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Housing for homeless helps prevent winter emergency shelter crises: advocate

Housing for homeless helps prevent winter emergency shelter crises: advocate
From CTV - January 14, 2018

Homeless shelter emergencies are not happening in other Canadian winter cities because they have focused on getting people into housing, says the head of a national group working to get people off the streets.

Officials in Toronto opened a temporary homeless shelter earlier this month in the face of what Mayor John Tory called relentless cold and an unprecedented demand for additional supports.

"There's a surge in homelessness for some reason," said Tim Richter, president of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. "They do not know what to attribute it all to yet."

Although he agreed Toronto needs to meet this winter's demand, he said the city must address a larger issue.

"The worry is it becomes a panic and becomes a focus on shelters," Richter said. "We have the emergency we are facing eclipsing the crisis that created the emergency.

"Homelessness is caused by a lack of housing. People become focused on shelters as their response."

He said cities such as Edmonton, Montreal, Hamilton, Guelph, Ont., and London, Ont., have avoided shelter emergencies this year because they have put efforts into housing the homeless in recent years.

Officials in some of those cities confirmed they have had enough beds to cope with increasing demand during recent cold snaps.

"In the deep freeze, we had beds available," said Matthew Pearce, chief executive officer of the Old Brewery Mission in Montreal. "Before we were over-full ... Now there's no mattresses on the floor. None in the hallways. None in the cafeteria.

"There's nobody who's had to sleep on the floor because there's no beds."

The change, he said, can be linked to some changes that have made.

"We ca not just continue to provide overnight shelter and meals and showers and change of clothes," said Pearce. "As critical as those services are, if that's where we stop, we are aiding and abetting homelessness."

Homes for about 600 people have been found in the last two years, he said.

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