It’s January morning in Toronto and I am colder than I have ever been in my entire life. Temperature is around -15°C with wind chill – a chill I am feeling very keenly thank you very much.
I can’t feel my hands anymore – encased as they are in $40 thermal gloves from Marks. My eyes are stinging, $400 coat unfortunately not being able to protect me entirely from the buffeting winds. My breath comes out in puffs – I actually quite enjoy this part. It makes me feel like I am in a movie, watching the air shape the words I said. But right now I am cold, and annoyed – and damn this 15 minute walk to class is literal torture. How can anyone stand to be out in the cold for so long….
Well turns out they can’t.
January 5th and January 6th 2015 – in the period of 48 hours two men froze to death.
The whole idea seems inconceivable to me. That someone should die, that human lives be lost in such a cruel way. Lost due to something that not only could have been prevented but should have been prevented. As detailed by Cathy Crowe, herself, in a blog post in 2015 – these deaths were simply the result of human incompetence. The Medical Officer Of Health was waiting for the temperature to fall further before issuing an Extreme Cold Weather Alert, which then resulted in certain city officials not directing the opening of 24 hour warming centres. It seems so ridiculous when you say that. Two men froze to death, because city officials were waiting for it to get colder.
This horrifies me. I could pretend that I simply don’t understand the complexity of the situation because I am not from this city – but its not complex. Its wasn’t complex according to Cathy a year back when she was living (or re-living) through this situation. It was simply the question of improving the system, of changing it so that something like this wouldn’t ever happen. But this is a situation that seems to have a habit of repeating itself in this city. In fact in Cathy’s own words“ By 1999, the death rate was so significant that Toronto Disaster Relief Committee had declared homelessness a national disaster..”
The issue with the shelters goes beyond just the heating centres. According to this article published by the star in 2013, there are several problems with the current situation of shelters in Toronto – including
- “ Homeless persons access the system at 58 locations across the city. “It is possible that on occasion workers are inappropriately advising callers that a bed is not available at their location and not offering an alternative solution,” a report to council says. This is despite a city policy of finding an alternative.
- Shelters operate 24/7, but someone seeking a bed at 4 a.m. is likely to be out of luck. Drop in at 4 in the morning and your chances are very limited.
- Just because a bed is vacant doesn’t mean it’s available to someone needing it. Only one shelter allows pets. Someone with limited mobility might not be able to use a top bunk. Some shelters are for men or women, or families only. Couples have limited choices.”
These don’t even take into account the various issues faced by other minority groups – such as the risk of sexual assault for women at most shelters. Its time to act. To raise your voice. To join the conversation and to change this situation.
It’s on us to spare the time to incite change.
Follow Cathy Crowe and the amazing work she does on twitter.