Crisis deepens for city's homeless

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@idirect.com)
Sat, 07 Nov 1998 08:27:58 -0500


 November 7, 1998

Crisis deepens for city's homeless
Hostels have run out of mattresses for first time in their history

By Catherine Dunphy and Peter Edwards
Toronto Star Staff Reporters

Nine days after Toronto City Council declared homelessness a national
disaster, there are not even enough mattresses for all the homeless
wanting shelter.

``This is the first time in history we are a couple of hundred
mattresses short in hostels. This truly is an emergency,'' David
Hulchanski said yesterday outside Doctors Hospital.

The University of Toronto professor and member of the Toronto Disaster
Relief Committee wants the city to immediately open up Doctors Hospital
to house people forced to sleep on streets.

Police arrested 13 people Thursday after activists, most from the
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, talked their way into the mothballed
hospital and refused to leave.

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`There's so many more people on the streets than there has ever been'

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The city has promised to open the Brunswick Ave. hospital as a temporary
shelter for between 50 and 100 people on Dec. 1.
But Bob Rose, an outreach worker at Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre,
said emergency shelter is needed immediately.

He works with psychiatric patients he says are too frightened to go to
hostels when they are discharged from the hospital.

``I'm losing them to the streets,'' he said. ``Twice I've gone out and
found one guy and pulled him off the street because he's scared of the
Seaton House hostel and the hospital doesn't want him. I need
alternatives.''

Rose said the situation is so desperate, some of his patients end up
competing for a piece of park in which to sleep.

Other anti-poverty activists pointed out that homeless shelters are
already packed - and the worst is yet to come as temperatures drop.

``It's potentially life-threatening - even this week,'' Dr. Stephen
Hwang of St. Michael's Hospital said yesterday in an interview.

There were 3,886 people in Toronto shelters Wednesday night, which is 98
per cent capacity, said Joanne Campbell, general manager of the city's
shelter, housing and support division.

Homeless people can die of hypothermia at temperatures as high as 15C,
and people with brain injuries, drinking problems or on some psychiatric
medications are particularly vulnerable, said Hwang, who has studied the
homeless in Canada and the U.S.

``Recently a (Toronto) homeless man died of hypothermia at only 10
degrees,'' Hwang said.

``Some schizophrenics are increasingly susceptible to hypothermia
because they take neuroleptics, drugs which cause the blood vessels near
the surface of the skin to dilate and lose heat more rapidly,'' he
added.

Five homeless people died over the past week, Cathy Crowe of the Toronto
Disaster Relief Committee said yesterday.

Homeless people often can't escape the cold, said Crowe, a nurse who
works with the poor. Shelters have been full since the summer.

However, many residents of the west-end neighbourhood around the former
Doctors Hospital say they shouldn't have to take too much of the burden
of housing the poor, since the area already has a Salvation Army hostel
on College St., the Scott Mission on Spadina Ave., two drop-in centres
and a community centre.

``We certainly don't want to be responsible for anybody freezing to
death, but this definitely doesn't add to the glory of the street,''
said Catherine Cragg of the Sussex-Ulster Residents Association.

Plans to turn Doctors into a temporary shelter are unlikely to be
affected by yesterday's provincial government announcement it will be
demolished to make way for a long-term care facility. Construction is
due to begin next spring.

Dick Nellis, who lives across the street from Doctors Hospital, said he
wishes the city would hurry setting up shelter in the building.

``I think the alternative is too horrible and that's people dying in the
cold,'' Nellis said.

Churches have opened up their Out of the Cold program, allowing some 500
people a night to sleep on mats, Sister Susan Moran of Our Ladies
Mission said.

However, it isn't nearly enough, Moran said.

``There's so many more people on the streets than there has ever been,''
Moran said. ``It's just tripled.''

A recent effort to clear the homeless from church grounds around
Metropolitan United Church on Sherbourne St. has driven more people into
the Don Valley, where there are some 200 homeless, Beric German of the
disaster relief committee said.

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