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Toronto freezes funding for homeless shelters, cuts funding for new affordable housing

They gather on the second Tuesday of every month not only to remember the homeless men and women who died on the streets of Toronto the previous month, but to also remember the lack of progress that’s been made over the years towards eliminating homeless deaths.

“Not having the supports or the care or the resources to stay healthy,” said Sherman Hesselgrave, Incumbent, Church of the Holy Trinity.

In its 2013 municipal budget, the city of Toronto froze funding for homeless shelters.

“Freezing funding means that you actually cut services,” said Michael Shapcott, Director, Affordable Housing and Social Innovation at the Wellesley Institute.

This year’s budget called for 41,172 bed nights to be cut from the homeless shelter system. The city argued that there was excess capacity in the system.

“But many of us know otherwise.”

That the Peter Street Referral Centre has become a de facto overnight shelter. That many people are being turned away from shelters. 

A selective survey of 15 shelters performed by Social Planning Toronto revealed that all of them had to turn people away some of the time because they were full.

“So we know that the bland assurance from City Hall that there’s no problem and always a space simply isn’t true.”

The 2013 city budget also had a 50 per cent funding cut for new affordable housing. Due in part to the funding cuts taking place at the provincial and federal levels of government.

On Monday, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) released its Alternative Federal Budget 2013.

“It really expose the lie of politicians who say there’s nothing that can be done about homelessness.”

In its alternative budget, the CCPA called for the federal government to commit $2 billion a year to affordable housing.

“This will double the allocation for both the federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy and the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program and provide significant funding for new home construction,” said the CCPA. 

“It will also support maintenance of the existing stock of affordable housing.”

In Ontario, housing activists are calling for Premier Wynne to reverse the trend of cuts to housing and homelessness programs.

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) is coordinating the People’s Budget for Ontario, calling for submissions from community groups, small businesses, trade unions and individuals. which will be presented to the government.

Two names were added to the homeless memorial board on Tuesday, bringing the total number of homeless deaths in 2013 to seven.

One of those names belonged to 45-year-old Andrew Sillifant, known on the streets as Frizz because of his frizzy hair. 

He died in February.

Brian DuBourdieu met Frizz 23 years ago at a homeless shelter. They quickly became good friends and hung around Seaton House through the years as part of a larger group of 15 men.

“His HIV kicked in pretty bad in October,” said DuBourdieu. 

“He was falling back into his old habits of crack cocaine and booze. And his system was weak enough that it finally finished him.”

DuBourdieu believes that all the years that Frizz spent on the streets, with its associated stress, was the real cause of his death.

“Sure, he wasn’t looking after himself,” said DuBourdieu. 

“But it was just the stress and the hopelessness of living on the streets that killed him.”

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