Shelters in Toronto have been a hot topic this winter in the news. A week ago, we came across a Reddit post, written on a “burner” account, detailing one individual’s experience being homeless in Toronto, and the support system of homeless shelters in the downtown core.
Reddit User NiceRepresentative writes: “I want to let people know, that probably don’t, what it’s actually like staying at a shelter or winter warming centre for the night. They’re not places I would wish on anyone but that being said the Metro Hall Warming Centre is probably the best shelter currently in the city.”
The difficulties are easy to imagine, but many people probably underestimate the difficulty of acquiring one particular thing – it’s not a job, an apartment, clean clothes, or friends – it is sleep. The human brain cannot function properly without rest – anyone who has been tired can attest to that – and prolonged periods of being awake can actually cause hallucinations, and your body to shut down. Unless of course you are a user of certain substances that prevent this… Needless to say, for a homeless person, that is unemployed, finding a job on zero sleep (or hopped up on drugs) would be next to impossible.
He goes on to explain “If you’re lucky, you get to sleep on a cot with a hopefully clean sheet and a blanket that doesn’t smell too bad. I try to keep all my clothes on as I’m afraid of getting bedbugs which does happen. If there are no cots available then maybe I can sleep on the floor or in a chair, that’s if I get sleep. Cots/mats/chairs/etc are pretty close to each other so you have to be careful of your neighbour coughing on you, sneezing on you, spitting on you, vomiting on you, etc. I’m constantly weighing my options daily “Do I spend the night at a Tim Hortons? maybe see if I can hold out for the night in a sleeping bag and all my clothes on? or do I go to the shelter and risk getting bugs or really, really sick?”
He decides to go with the “winter warming centre” in downtown. I could already see where this was going, I live at Sherbourne and Dundas, surrounded by shelters and halfway houses on all sides. I have walked down George street from Allen Gardens before… It’s not a pretty place – well I won’t sugarcoat it – IT IS TORONTO’S SKID ROW.
“The mentally ill and addicts are your primary occupants. You can pretty much tell who the non mentally ill or addicts are because they’ll be the ones immediately trying to sleep as soon as getting there. Of the 20 or so people in my shelter last night I’d say 15 or so were addicts and/or mentally ill … There was one older gentlemen who sat at a table and talked to himself, nonstop, for the 8 hours straight I was there. Another guy who just paced back and forth freaking out and threatening to beat people up. Another guy in the bed next to me who had his arm broken and constantly needed help … a man and woman who just went around instigating everyone until finally everyone decided to be quiet around 2 or 3am… one night when I managed to dose off for a bit I woke to find a guy going through my bag… On average I’m probably getting maybe 2 hours of sleep a night during a 7 to 8 hour stay.”
This doesn’t sound like it’s not true. I live nearby and can verify, somewhat. So what are the solutions? In this Reddit user’s eyes, the solution is not “more beds” (as most of Toronto’s media has been focussing on). It is the quality of the beds – and the lack of sleep/noise protection and proper security and trained volunteers. As is suggested by this statement in the post:
“I’ll be honest and say I don’t think more beds are going to fix this. in fact I know they won’t. I’ve stayed in places were there are beds/cots/mats/whatever but they’re honestly just not worth it. You could give me $5 and I’ll get a better nights sleep at a 24 hour tim hortons than a shelter. that tims will also likely be cleaner and probably won’t risk getting sick or bugs. Staff at these places need better support. Many of the times it’s two people (usually women) who have to deal with all of us. or you have Security that just aren’t interested. and I feel sorry for these people that do have to deal with us…”
Many of us have never thought about the actual logistics of being homeless, and how hard it can be. I remember a friend of mine, who had spent years homeless, once pointed out all the guys in Allen Gardens with their clothes spread out on the field, and I think I said something stupid like “Laundry day!” – he turned to me and said “You have no idea what it means, when it rains and you are homeless. Imagine every time it rained – everything you owned got soaked and ruined.” Needless to say, I felt idiotic, and he had made his point…
With the recent string of coverage on Toronto’s homeless shelters – and the cold winter this year – this well written Reddit piece should serve as a warning to Toronto, it’s government, and its citizens, that we need to step up our game and at least try to address the growing homeless problem in Toronto.
This article is not a complete downer however! What was really incredible to see was the overwhelming response from all the amazing, and incredibly caring, Torontonians to this homeless person’s experiences. At the time of this post there were over 180 comments, from people all over Toronto, offering everything to help this good-hearted homeless person. People chimed in from all over offering him a place to stay, food, a new bed, furniture, and a few jobs paying $20/hr! Employers were asking him for his experience and to send resumes!
This shows that we, as the people of Toronto, have the means and the ability, and even the thoughtfulness to do something – but for the most part we choose to ignore. Help today by writing your MP, or donating to one of the many shelters in Toronto so they can upgrade their facilities. Or better yet, write Drake and ask him why he hasn’t built a homeless shelter in downtown Toronto :-O … Help people in need secure the most important thing for them to become functioning members of society again; sleep.
You can ready the full Reddit post from NiceRepresentative HERE
Donate, Volunteer, or help by spreading the word! Our youth (and adults) should not be subjected to these shelter conditions!