Homeless shelter epidemics don't happen in other cities like they do in Toronto, because these cities have honed in on getting people into affordable housing instead of just getting them off the streets.
During the winter officials in the city opened up temporary homeless shelters to cope with the additional demand on the shelter system from the cold weather, but it sheds a light on the city's housing crisis. Homelessness, after all, is caused by a lack of housing, and cities like Montreal, Edmonton and Hamilton have avoided this sort of emergencies by putting more effort into finding housing for the homeless.
Families using shelter services in Toronto
In Montreal, there's more than enough spaces available for the influx of homeless people the city faces, and they never have to turn people away. Homes for more than 600 people have been found over the last two years.
Meanwhile in Alberta, several cities have put into place a 10-year plan to end homelessness. As a result, more than 6,000 people have been placed into homes in the last decade. The province recently increased the asset limit for geared-to-income residents from $7,000 to $25,000, giving them the opportunity to save for their future, like car downpayment or a mortgage.
Issues with Toronto's shelter system, such as people being turned away from shelters that still have vacancies, just add to the growing list of issues. When this happens, these people are forced to either sleep on the floor in Out of the Cold or drop-in centres or brave it on the streets. These centres are a bandaid solution for a short while, but they provide inhumane conditions that fail to meet basic standards.
Individuals using shelters in Toronto
One way to solve this issue is to expand the amount of income-based housing in the city. Canada's recently announced National Housing Strategy aims to cut the amount of chronic homelessness in half over the next decade and promises the construction of 100,000 affordable housing units throughout the country. These houses though much needed, are years away from being move-in ready.
There is over 180,000 people on the housing waitlist in Toronto alone, and it will take decades to fill the backlog of people. New spaces for homeless people in shelters are badly needed, and cannot be added soon enough.
Shelters do help in the short term, but finding housing for these people is both more effective and more economically sustainable.