Community Counselling & Resource Centre

'My friends are dying:' Toronto's homeless call out growing health crisis in shelters

January 9th, 2018

"I used to be proud to be from Toronto," said David Gordon. "Now I'm ashamed."

Gordon, a homeless Torontonian who also volunteers at a community health centre in Etobicoke, says that he sees people struggling with depression, anxiety and addiction every day. 

"It's getting to the point where my friends are dying," he said.

Gordon spoke at a Tuesday event that saw several homeless people, shelter volunteers and community health representatives decrying the conditions of the city's shelter system — the focus of heavy scrutiny during the extreme cold snaps of recent weeks.

They argue that an unseen health crisis is lurking in Toronto's crowded shelters.

Sharon Mark, who has been living at Sistering, a 24-hour women's drop in, for the past nine months, says exhaustion from disturbed sleep and fast spreading disease are the norm for her now.

She described living with a "complete lack of privacy," and getting sick "over and over again," concluding, "guys, we need help."

Homeless live in state of 'chaos' 

Later, community health worker Maurice Adongo from the organization Street Health compared Toronto's shelter system to a refugee camp he'd spent time in, concluding that in many ways, the camp was a better place to be.

"To put it quite frankly, the life of a homeless person in this city today, is something like: chaos today, chaos tomorrow, and chaos forever," said Adongo.

He says the city needs at least 1,000 permanent beds — not just temporary spaces — to take on the crisis.

Also present were local politicians such as city councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Joe Cressy.

A release put out in tandem with the event describes overcrowded shelters that are incapable of taking on the health issues of people who come to them, which include "trauma, chronic disease, developmental disabilities, mental health issues, substance use and acquired brain injuries."

The ask on Tuesday was for more funding to allow for ramped up health care, including primary care, harm reduction, and mental health services.

It came on the same day as the Holy Trinity church's monthly memorial service for people who died as a result of being homeless.

The city launched a program last January that tracks homeless deaths in the city, finding that 70 people died between January and September 2017, the bulk of them middle-aged men.