Advocates for homeless people decry lack of mental health resources, subsidized housing as Leslieville homeless shelter opens

11:49 a.m., Jan. 9, 2018. “Living in the streets is not normal – it’s not normal for any person,” Dr. Doris Grinspun, chief executive officer of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario, said at a press conference on Tuesday at city hall.

Jan. 9, 2017

By Arianne Robinson

“Living in the streets is not normal – it’s not normal for any person,” Dr. Doris Grinspun, chief executive officer of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), said at city hall on Tuesday.

The day after the New Hope Leslieville homeless shelter opened in the east part of the city, activists, health workers such as Grinspun, and people with experience in the shelter system spoke passionately at a press conference at city hall.

“I’ve been homeless now, like I said, off and on for about three years. I would rather sleep in a bank machine then go sleep on a matt on a floor beside people that I don’t know,” said David Gordon, a volunteer at LAMP Community Health Centre in Etobicoke and himself someone with experience with homelessness. “It’s not because they’re bad people, it’s because of my mental health issues.”

Lynne Raskin, CEO of the South Riverdale Community Centre, said after the press conference, “The immediate concern is to keep people off the street and in some sort of shelter that is actually respectful and where people can stay with dignity.”

From there, Raskin said she’d like to see more mobile support in shelters that would involve health care, counselling, and case management, plus supports that help transition people out of shelters.

“So what we have offered [to the New Hope shelter]: ‘Give us some funding so that we can create a team of support to actually connect with the Hope shelter.’ The shelter is now open and there’s no funding for supporting people.”

The manager of the Leslieville shelter, Darryl Kinnear, says more resources for mental health and housing are certainly needed.

“The resources that are available are good within the community, they’re just limited. The amount that certain agencies can take on a caseload is just not high enough, so there’s not enough resources in that aspect.”

Kinnear also said options for apartments for the people they service are very few, with the waiting list for TCHC stretching up to 10 years.

“More access to affordable housing – to subsidized housing – would be one of the biggest needs for what we deal with.”

Until more subsidized housing and support is available in Toronto, those with experiences with homelessness will use their voices to speak out against what they see on Toronto’s streets.

“I used to be proud to be from Toronto – now I’m ashamed. It’s ridiculous that we have to walk by people [sleeping] on the street, and we all do it, none of us stop and talk to these people – they need help,” Gordon said.

“They don’t need you walking by and just saying, ‘Oh well.’ ”