Mental Illness, Addictions, and the Homeless Crisis of Toronto, Canada.
It’s been a hard winter in Toronto.
The weather is cold, often dipping down into the negative 10 or below Celsius, with the Windchill making it below negative 15 or lower. The wind and blowing snow has made driving conditions difficulty at best, and the heat in the homes of Torontonians has been increased to allow for warmth to enter our homes, beating back the cold, if only ever temporary.
For some it’s a relief to step into our houses after being outside on our commute home. It’s warm, and we have the ability to prepare dinner on our stoves, chat to our spouses about our day, and take care of our children.
But for many Torontonians, this reality does not exist.
Tent City’s are alive and well under the Gardiner Underpass. The Respite Centers are filling up with individuals who cannot get into the Homeless Shelters because they are full. Some people are sleeping in the shelter of a building, hoping no one asks them to move, because they have no where else to go.
Several weeks ago I came to work early in the morning to find a wretched, out of a movie scenario. My building was surrounded by officers and tape was drawn up around the front of the building.
We were told consistently to enter through the back door. We weren’t allowed on the steps to the front entrance, let alone close the alleyway beside the building.
I entered through the back and wandered to the front desk where I found the security guard on the phone and the Maintenance man standing at staring out the front windows, waiting. I have been friendly with both in the past, so I was able to ask them with ease what was going on, why where there so many cops surrounding the building.
In honesty, my first thought was along the lines of a suspicion package, or a bomb threat, but the reality seemed to be much worse.
A woman who had been sleeping in the alley way trying to stay warm that night had been run over by the garbage truck early in the morning. She had been sleeping on a warm vent, and he didn’t look.
This has been the first death noted in Toronto that has been related to the cold weather, but it is of course not the last.
It has spurned more attention to the issue, but not by those who matter. Instead, many are raising their voices to cry about the despairing nature of the Homelessness in Toronto, only to be continually met with silence. While we know City Council is moving towards better plans, the fact of the matter remains, the reality of the situation is dire, and the response is inefficient.
Part of the problem, however, is the inability to understand the interconnection of mental illness, drug abuse and addiction, and homelessness.
We would like to believe that these concepts are not interconnected, that being homeless is part of a choice one takes in their life, like choosing to not drink coffee on the weekends.
News articles repeatedly interview individuals who mention their addictions, their mental illnesses, their problems with the system and how scared they are, but we haven’t clued in yet. We haven’t realized that our system is so profoundly broken that a simple resolution to create more available, and affordable housing, in the city of Toronto is a band-aid slapped solution that only serves to make us feel better, not fix the problem.
To delve into how the problem should be fixed, well that is for my next discussion post I guess. I don’t want to take up all of your time right now. But maybe you’ve got your wheels turning. Maybe you’re thinking about what you can do, to help address the homeless problem in your city.
The simplest solution? Write your MP, MPP, Local Government Representative, and ask what you can do to tell. What you can do be active, not reactive, to a growing problem. Tell them they need to address the underlying causes of Homelessness, not just the surface problems. Tell them they need a solution, and you’re ready to help find one.
Because if we remain silent, more people die, and the problem only get’s worse, not better. So stand up, speak up, and act.