Homelessness and its Perils

By: Jack Xu

As of February 28, 2017, Toronto reported a 95% occupancy rate in shelters opened for the homeless.

“I don’t have a choice. I have to do this,” the blue-eyed girl on the pavement told me holding out her arms for money. Here is a prelude-five minutes earlier I asked her what she was doing in the freezing cold. If our readers recall, it was a day when temperatures dipped to as low as -11 degree Celsius.

“You shouldn’t be doing this you know,” I said. She just said with a smile, “Thank you!”

I don’t know her name, but I know there are many like her; homeless, desolate and searching for a better life. Although the experience seems a tad bit poetic, it is not. It is a sign that we have to make things better for the vulnerable and dispossessed.

Soon after, I pulled up a report of an expert advisory panel on homelessness in Canada in 2014. Here is what it says: an estimated 35,000 Canadians are homeless on any given night and 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness each year. You heard it right! Over 200,000 Canadians do not have a home on any given year.

The report also underlines the difference between chronic and episodic homelessness. It says, “People who experience chronic homelessness have gone long periods of time without a home, while episodic homelessness is experienced by those who oscillate between being housed and being homeless. People in these circumstances often have disabling conditions, such as chronic physical or mental illness, or substance abuse problems. In Canada the chronically homeless are estimated to make up about two to four per cent of all homeless people.”

Now, time for a known fact: many of the homeless sleep on park benches, pavements, ravines, or on heating grates and many seek refuge in overnight shelters or motels.

Consider this: in Toronto, the occupancy rate of shelters opened for the homeless was a whopping 95%. As of February 28, 2017, a total of 4,454 homeless individuals and families checked into shelters and motels in Toronto.

Thankfully, winter wasn’t as bad as the weatherman forecasted and only 74 people checked into Out of the Cold sites (a volunteer-run initiative offering a bed and a meal to those in need during the winter). The program started in November last year and will run until April 15, 2017.

At MCIS, we have given this issue some serious thought and offer language services for free at events such as ‘Homeless Connect Toronto’ (an event which provides essential resources on housing, employment, ID clinics, health care, and other services under one roof for those at risk of or experiencing homelessness in Toronto). Last year, our interpreters provided services in Spanish, Arabic and French to a number of people who arrived at the event.

So the next time you run into a homeless person, ask them how you can help or better yet volunteer with a shelter and make a difference.

Vivek Vijayapalan, Marketing and Communications Coordinator | March 01, 2017 | Toronto, Ontario