No More Turning Away: Homelessness in Our City

by Hero Aiken

“You can’t sleep on the streets, would you? Of course not. Me either, but it’s the option that’s available.” – Innocent Amuda (Global News)

When the matter of homelessness in Toronto is presented as a collection of detached facts it is easy to forget the devastating reality of the situations to which they refer. Most of you reading this will not have had to triage admission to a respite shelter. I am willing to bet, however, that you have walked past an unhoused person, and decided whether or not to offer them spare change. That person might have been one of 140 people denied shelter in April of this year. They might even have wound up one of the approximately 3 people who died weekly from homelessness in 2023 (City of Toronto).

Now, I want to make it clear that my intentions are not to make any reader feel guilty; even the more privileged Torontonian does not have encouraging economic prospects. It is not certain, therefore, that any given person has anything to spare for their homeless fellows. That said, my intention is to highlight the plight of homeless people, in the hopes of making it harder for the average Torontonian to ignore. Just as the government’s efforts to disguise our unhoused populations through hostile architecture make it harder to demand action towards alleviating their condition, the willful ignorance of many of our city’s more fortunate has a similar effect.

I fear that at this point, I may lose some readers in protest against my condemnation of their actions. Perhaps you will say that you do not look away from the suffering of others out of malice. Perhaps you will say that you do not look away from the suffering of others out of a lack of regard for their humanity. “It is the opposite, actually,” you might explain, “I look away because I care too much. It’s just too painful to keep my eyes on hardship that I am powerless to alleviate.” If that is the case, I could not agree more. I cannot assent, however, to the idea that this absolves us of the responsibility of at least bearing witness to the pain felt by our homeless neighbours. I am not asking you to part with your money. I am not asking that you sacrifice any of the material comforts that you enjoy in your daily life. I merely ask that you endure the relatively miniscule burden of helping to keep the public’s eyes trained on this humiliation, a humiliation that is among humanity’s greatest: our failure to provide the necessities of life for our daughters, brothers, nieces, grandparents and friends.

In January of 2022, I wrote an article for Amnesty International U of T on the plight of unhoused individuals in Toronto. I spoke about the disingenuous ways in which our federal and municipal governments promote an image of benevolence and generosity, while failing to provide for our most vulnerable populations. I also detailed the lack of services available to homeless and transient Torontonians. I wrote about how every penny and every man-hour that goes towards disguising the issue of homelessness in our city, rather than towards solving it, is a disgrace. Almost two years on, the lived circumstances of Toronto’s unhoused people remain largely unchanged.

As per the Toronto Star, “[a]cross Toronto, more than 10,500 people are known to be homeless, according to the city’s latest data from April.” This is at least a 6% increase from 2022. Perhaps even more striking is the fact that there were more than 4,200 instances of people being turned away from shelters in April 2023 alone (“Homeless Encampments are Growing Again in Toronto,” §8). What’s more, city counsel has warned that its spending on shelters has far exceeded the amount allotted for this purpose in its annual budget (§25). This information can only be received with alarm; Toronto is not able to adequately address the needs of its homeless citizens, even while financially overreaching itself. Without additional support from both federal and provincial governments, it is clear that the number of people turned away from shelters will only grow, especially as we enter the colder months.

Furthermore, the above statistics cover only the difficulties faced by Toronto’s unhoused in achieving temporary access to basic necessities. I have not said anything about the housing crisis more broadly, and the bleak prospects with which Toronto’s most vulnerable are faced when searching for a permanent place to call home. As housing prices skyrocket, and wages do not rise in kind, even people who are currently housed can find themselves on the path to homelessness, if they are faced with job loss or health concerns (The Homeless Hub). This is acutely felt by recent immigrants and refugees arriving in Toronto, many of whom have had to inaugurate their stay in Canada with a bout of homelessness (Global News).

I want to emphasize that housing is a human right like any other, and that the circumstances that I have described are those of people who are being denied a human right.The above information, though presented as a slew of statistics, represents the daily situation of a real population, made up of real individuals, who are enduring real suffering. In my previous article, I denounced the ways in which our governments take calculated actions towards the disguising of this injustice, in Toronto. Obviously, this makes it more difficult for resources to be directed towards the alleviation of homelessness. This is not the only obstacle affecting our response to our unhoused neighbours; individuals like you and me are just as guilty of effacing this issue in our own minds.

Works Cited

City of Toronto. (2024, January 25). Deaths of people experiencing homelessness. onitoring/monitoring-deaths-of-homeless-people/.

Gibson, V. (2023, June 8). Homeless encampments are growing again in Toronto, as the city faces a surging crisis. Toronto Star.,the%20city’s%20deepening%20homelessness%20crisis.

Jackson, H., & Rocca, R. (2023, August 16). Toronto is in a housing “crisis” leaving newcomers, residents in the lurch. Global News.

Where will we live? ontario’s Affordable Housing Crisis. Where Will We Live? Ontario’s Affordable Housing Crisis | The Homeless Hub. (2018).

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