The future of Toronto’s shelter system is set to be decided next week at a special budget meeting and CityNews has obtained exclusive footage from inside some of these shelters, which some say are often cold, overcrowded and unsanitary.
“You’re surrounded by a sea of people suffering, who are sick, some people sound like they are dying,” said Paul Salvatori, a photojournalist who provided CityNews with the exclusive video.
“One gentlemen I passed by sounded like he barely had a breath between each cough,” recalls Salvatori.
Salvatori managed to get into The Better Living Centre and says the experience changed his life.
“It’s ironic, growing up the Better Living Centre was meant to promote better living, now it houses those in need and it’s not being done in a way at all that’s described as, never mind better living but just decent living.”
City staff have confirmed that the 2018 budget, set to be approved next week, has the capital and operational funding to open 361 new shelter beds and is committed to having a total of 1,000 beds over the next three years.
Advocates say they need those numbers now and those who are staying at these shelters say all they want is more space and better living conditions.
“These people are condemned to these kind of conditions for another year, probably longer, and that’s totally inappropriate,” said Gaetan Heroux, a long-time frontline worker and advocate. “It will damage people, people will suffer and we see that.”
Tara and Brian are staying at the Better Living Centre. Tara is eight months pregnant and says despite their efforts, they can’t seem to get priority for housing or to move elsewhere.
“I’m constantly worried about someone falling on me, hitting my stomach and even the needles that are left around, I have to worry about steeping on them and getting diseases,” she said.
“What a weird way to have my first child, under these conditions,” said Brian. “It’s tough and we don’t seem to be a priority for housing or anything.”
After hearing their story, Heroux decided he was going to step in and get them into another shelter, especially after hearing a fight broke out earlier that morning because of the tension and overcrowding.
“I think city staff does care,” said Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam after viewing the video obtained by CityNews.
“This is not an easy situation for them, they are working with the resources that they have but we need to do more.”
Advocates will be at City Hall Monday morning at 9 a.m. to rally and speak about what some are calling a crisis, the same morning City Council will be meeting on the budget.