Somewhere you'd never want to be

Opinion contributor from Tenant Advocate on the true reflection of Toronto's shelter standards for the homeless.

Guest Author: Rachael A. (Citizen Anthropologist, Tenant)

Published: Monday, January 29, 2024 | Updated: Monday, February 5, 2024

That would be in the shelter system, where you would be treated as a lesser human being, even though many of the "clients" are paying rent in the form of reduced welfare benefits, so it's not free. According to someone's idea of appropriate treatment for sheltered persons, otherwise known as City sanctioned shelter standards, they are checked up on, and organized, daily and nightly with frequent wellness checks, and two bed checks every night. A night of sleep is not allowed for those in shelters. And there are plenty of checks, not only by the workers, but also, if you're in a hotel shelter, by the management staff of the hotel. There is never any privacy with all these interested parties on your heels, treating you like prey.

Somehow, having the hotel staff on site making inspections is truly demeaning. If you hang a towel on an over-the-door hook so the towel dries, for instance, that is not allowed, it's a health and safety issue. Is a towel on an over-the-door hook really any of the business of the hotel? I doubt it. It is simply a way of asserting power. And therefore, is the worst sort of insult to a person. Because you're in a shelter, any one of them can psychologically kick you for any fabricated reason.

The more serious problem, the rat and mice infestations raised very little interest. Hotel management has no sense of what is important and what is not important, and almost always can be relied on to make a fuss over the unimportant thing.

The hotel was so uncomfortable being associated with a shelter that they removed their sign from the front of the building. But, because of the location of the building, right next to an electrical corridor, there is no doubt that they are doing better as a shelter than they could as a hotel. The Wi-Fi for the building was frequently not functioning and the TV service was more off than on. This would not be tolerated in a hotel but is apparently acceptable for a shelter.

There is nothing for anyone to do, so the TV at least gave some relief to endless days and nights of nothing in a location that was inconvenient, to say the least, 25 km from the center of Toronto, in a neighbourhood that had some amenities but really not much.

Some people were in constant movement, walking, maybe coming back to the shelter for meals, but mostly just walking, something to do to fill the long days and nights. That was one way to avoid the frequent intrusions, the wellness checks. Even though staff may have seen someone several times already in a day, shelter staff would still do "wellness" checks. And then hotel staff made room inspections. Checking the rooms twice a month when they already had cleaning staff in them every week. ("Clients" had to ask for every roll of toilet paper, and sometimes they were refused...)

Many of the "clients" packed up their possessions every morning and left the premises for the day, wheeling their suitcases along the street to catch the bus, returning at night to sleep at the shelter, usually because they were forced to share a room. Some of them have jobs, some have cars, but there is really no way they can afford to pay rent too. And still the government of Canada insists that we need more people. There are so many people being wasted, why bring in more?

The shelter was desperately trying to find more beds, they said, but really, the shelter was busy appropriating rooms for staff "offices", or break rooms, or otherwise threatening those who had single rooms with a "roommate" because of the need for beds. On the female floor, there were nine rooms set aside for staff offices. Most of them were empty most of the time because staff were there maybe one day a week only. Some rooms were emptied of beds to make meeting rooms. They pay lip service to the need for beds, with their real priority elsewhere.

Shelter is what it's about, so thank you for the shelter. As for everything else, no thank you to the attitude (What do you expect? You're in a shelter), no thank you to the discrimination, no thank you to being treated like prey. One of the big problems is that no one will answer questions, but everyone is busy slapping you down, keeping you in your place. The Agencies can fabricate evidence any which way they want and so they do. Nothing you can do about it, but fear is a constant companion.

Shelter is shelter, a temporary abode, not a chance to disrespect people who are in a shelter because the city of Toronto, maybe the country of Canada, forgot about building apartments for regular people and built condos. The supply of apartments has been insufficient for over 40 years. Time to adjust how we've been thinking about housing.

Housing needs to be an opportunity, not a life-long sentence of poverty, which is what the current rent-geared-to-income (RGI) routine is. Another, different, solution, originating in Vienna, Austria, after WW2, (New York Times Magazine Section, Sunday, May 28, 2023) offers a way out of this repressive, punitive, going no-where "solution", and though the city of Toronto is aware of it, there has been nothing forthcoming about any changes coming up. Of course, there needs to be a real attempt to increase the housing supply, first. The help the city offers the homeless is not helpful to the homeless. It is designed as a dead-end solution. And that must be how they want it to stay. Look at all the associations, agencies, hotels, and employees who are benefiting from the current situation. Everyone, but not the homeless.

This Opinion Contribution was sent in to Openroom by Guest Author: Rachael A. (Citizen Anthropologist, Tenant)

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