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Housing advocates call for Toronto to declare homelessness a 'state of emergency'

Last Updated Jan 22, 2019 at 1:09 pm EDT

A homeless person is seen in downtown Toronto, on Jan. 3, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

As the bitter cold continues, advocates for the homeless gathered at City Hall on Tuesday morning for a call to action.

City councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam led the group, calling for the city to declare homelessness a “state of emergency.”

Wong-Tam says housing is a human right and lack of affordability is having deadly consequences.

“Toronto’s lack of deeply affordable housing, supportive and transitional housing, mental health services, and shelter overcapacity have resulted in deadly consequences,” Wong-Tam and fellow Coun. Gord Perks said in a letter to members of the city’s Housing and Planning Committee.

Four people who have experienced homelessness have died this year in Toronto, including a woman who was run over by a garbage truck while she sleeping on a grate that was providing heat.

“Toronto’s housing crisis is so dire, that disaster relief structures being put into use are not enough and we require an emergency response from all levels of government. The City has the capacity to shelter over 7,000 people, and yet we are far from meeting the need,” the letter continued.

“It’s time to declare homelessness a crisis and bring all available emergency housing resources to bear, to preserve sanctity of human life and prevent further suffering.”

According to Wong-Tam, Toronto Public Health recorded 145 deaths of individuals experiencing homelessness, from Jan 2017 to June 2018.

Longtime street nurse Cathy Crowe said all levels of government are responsible for tackling the issue.

“When city resources are strained it’s imperative to seek help from senior levels of government, including the province, and the federal government,” she said. “But at the same time the city could be enacting their Emergency Act. The emergency management program committee could be mobilizing.”