A new report shows about 20% of homeless youth are gay; 16% are veterans; and one in three who sleep outdoors are aboriginal.
There are twice as many homeless seniors in Toronto as there were four years ago, a new city report says, while aboriginal people, veterans and gay youth make up a larger share of the homeless population.
The findings prompted Mayor Rob Ford to issue a call for action Wednesday.
The study found that 19 per cent of homeless youth (under age 21) identify as LGBTQ, while 16 per cent of the homeless surveyed said they had served in the military. Aboriginal people make up a disproportionate share of those living outdoors — about a third — and 16 per cent of the homeless overall.
(Only about 1 per cent of Toronto’s people are aboriginal.)
Homeless seniors, meanwhile, have doubled since 2009. People 61 and older now constitute 10 per cent of Toronto’s homeless.
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Speaking at an event in Etobicoke, Ford called on the city to address the problem.
“We have to get the people off the streets and get them the help they need, be it if it is drugs, alcohol, [or] mental illness,” said the mayor, who in 2002 called the idea of having a homeless shelter in his ward “an insult.”
In April this year, over Ford’s objections, city council asked officials to “aim” to make more than 200 additional shelter beds available to the homeless. Citing official figures that said the city’s shelter system is 96 per cent full on an average night, Ford argued the system had “more than enough” beds — a statement anti-poverty advocates and some shelter operators themselves disputed.
Little has actually changed in the shelter system since, and it appears more people are sleeping outdoors.
The city’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, which conducted the survey whose partial results were released Wednesday, said it was too early to draw policy conclusions. A more complete report will be released in September.
The interim study provides a demographic portrait of Toronto’s homeless, and a glimpse of how they live.
Ontario’s Seniors’ Secretariat noted that there are more seniors in the population at large than before. But the increase in seniors who are homeless is far outstripping the overall rise. Between 2006 and 2011, there was a 12 per cent hike in Toronto’s senior population. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of homeless seniors more than doubled.
The city’s estimated homeless population of 5,219 has risen by about 50 since the last survey.
But more homeless people are actually sleeping outside. On April 17, when the survey was taken, 447 people were spending the night outdoors, instead of in a shelter, hospital or jail — up 24 per cent over four years ago.
Linda Cornel, a member of the Swampy Cree first nation, has a subsidized apartment near Dufferin St. and Eglinton Ave. provided by the Ontario Disability Support Program. She only sleeps there about once a week, saying “It’s too far.”
Usually, she spends nights on the pavement at Queen and Bathurst Sts., across the street from St. Christopher House, where she stores her diabetes medication.
The neighbourhood is also where she drinks Imperial sherry with friends.
She took to the bottle at age 14, when she started living on the streets. She has been homeless ever since; she is now 50, “on the dot,” she says.
Like Linda, many of Toronto’s homeless have health and addiction issues: almost half of the homeless surveyed had visited a hospital in the previous six months.
But unlike Linda, who said she did not want a permanent residence, 93 per cent of the city’s homeless population said they wanted permanent housing.