UPDATE: Mayor Tory responds to anti-poverty protest outside his private residence

File photo

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty held a memorial outside the Toronto mayor's condominium to recognize "another life lost to shelter overcrowding". The anti-poverty group released the following statement in support of the demonstration:

"After months of ignoring the alarm bells raised by homeless people and their allies, and on the same night that Mayor John Tory pushed through a further 2.6% cut to the shelter system, a deadly tragedy people fought so hard to prevent was unfolding on the streets. On Wednesday night, as City Council passed a budget that further gutted a system already bursting at the seams, a 28 year old indigenous man was trying to get into a warming centre in Kensington Market. He was told the centre was, yet again, full and that he could only be placed on a waiting list. Denied even the most basic shelter from the elements, he died a few hours later in what may have been a fentanyl overdose. We know, however, that this young man, whose identity is not being revealed at this time, died because he had been driven out onto the streets because of official negligence and by the City's utter disregard for the lives of the homeless. 

One homeless person dies in Toronto every ten days. Yet, the City continues to under-fund and under-resource shelters and boards up thousand of public housing units. It refuses to meet occupancy targets that allow homeless people even the most basic assurance of survival. In a city with sky-high rents and declining social assistance rates, the misery of the poor and homeless is not a surprise but has been willfully created and must be ended.  

On Sunday, we will gather in front of John Tory's $2.4 million luxury condo to remember the man whose life was taken so cruelly and needlessly. Our tribute to him will take the form, though, of fighting for the living and demanding that no one else be allowed to perish through the kind of the shameful neglect that caused this death. We are asking people to bring flowers, candles and other symbols of respect and mourning. We will lay them where they deserve to be laid, at John Tory's doorstep."

In turn, the mayor's office responded to the protest/vigil with a statement, that reads in part:

This is a very tragic circumstance. City staff are investigating and we will be asking for a full report once all the facts are known.

The Mayor has been very vocal about the dangers of fentanyl and attended the first meeting of the Toronto Overdose Prevention Working Group in early January to prepare for the impacts of this dangerous drug in our city and across Canada.

On Wednesday night, the overall capacity of the men's shelter system was at 95%. There were beds available, including 14 extreme cold weather beds at Fort York, which is at Bathurst and Front. Drop-in facilities provide tokens for people to get to shelters, but it is our understanding that the individual declined a referral.

This death is tragic, but it is unrelated to last week's budget debate.

City staff have assured the Mayor's office that the approved 2017 budget will lead to 290 beds coming online this year.

The budget also invests $185 million in poverty reduction initiatives.

Mayor Tory moved a motion on Wednesday night for a report back from shelter staff by April 30 on the service level impact of the 2017 staff adjustments.

The Mayor is committed to making sure our vulnerable residents have a safe and secure place to live. He speaks with City staff regularly about shelter issues and has been told that there continues to be available beds throughout the system thanks to the investments we have made in our 2017 Winter Readiness Plan. This Plan, which Council approved at the November 2016 Council provided the City's General Manager of Shelter, Support & Housing Administration with an additional $2 million to implement the Plan and delegated authority for this and future winter seasons to open more emergency shelter beds and locations. 

The new and existing shelter support improvements implemented include:

-       Opening a 60-bed women's shelter at 702 Kennedy Rd.

-       Opening a 30-bed men's shelter at 850-854 Bloor Street West

-       Opening a 36-bed men's refugee shelter, operated by Sojourn House

-       Opening a 96-bed temporary shelter for families, operated by Red Door

-       Opening two 24-hour cold weather drop-in programs and a third overnight drop-in program for vulnerable individuals who cannot find a shelter bed, which adds an additional 130 spaces to the shelter system;

-       Negotiating a contract with a hotel provider to use rooms for vulnerable families, adding an additional 150 beds; and

-       Funding the Out of the Cold program to provide an additional 120 spaces

-       The City continues to fund the Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre, located at 129 Peter St., which is open 24 hours to provide any individual who needs emergency shelter the ability to work with staff to find adequate shelter spaces for the night.