Toronto Public Health is changing how it treats homelessness.
The city is moving to make homeless people available to them for a month after their arrival in a facility and using their mental health assessments.
They are being referred to as “shelters.”
It’s an ambitious plan, but the approach has been a hit with homeless people who have been able to access mental health services and have managed to find housing.
The strategy has been praised by health advocates.
A recent survey of Toronto residents found that 58 per cent of respondents said they would be happy to see homeless people stay at home, and that 68 per cent said they were happy to be referred to shelters.
The approach has also sparked controversy, with some homeless advocates accusing the city of putting profit ahead of social and mental health.
The policy will be implemented on a trial basis starting in the fall.
City officials said the program is designed to reduce the number of people entering the shelter system, especially in the first two weeks of the experiment.
The goal is to get the homeless population to 80 per cent occupancy by the end of this year.
Some homeless advocates say the initiative is not working.
“It’s a great opportunity to get homeless people off the street,” said Alanna B. King, who runs a social justice advocacy group called The Homeless Justice Project.
But she said the initiative could have the opposite effect of what it’s intended to achieve.
“This is not a long-term solution to homelessness,” King said.
King said the city’s plan could have disastrous consequences.
“We don’t have enough beds in shelters to keep people out,” she said.
“They can’t get the help they need to get off the streets.”
King said she’s hopeful the experiment can be replicated in other Canadian cities.
The mayor said the number one priority for the city is getting people off of the streets and into permanent housing.
“The people that are being served by this program, they’re the ones that are going to be the most affected,” Mayor John Tory said.
Tory has been pushing the idea of a “safer city” for years, and recently announced a $300-million plan to build shelters, mental health care, and community services for the homeless.
Tory said the money will be spent on social and housing services and a permanent program to find permanent housing for the remaining homeless people in Toronto.
A temporary shelter program in the city will run until 2021.
Tory also wants to see the city use more money to pay for mental health treatment.
The plan is being presented to City Council on Monday, but Mayor John Estrada said the province has to step in.
“Toronto has been at the forefront of the international movement toward reducing homelessness,” Estradas statement said.
He said that with funding, there would be enough resources to provide services to people in the program for at least six months.
“These services will be delivered on a permanent basis,” he said.
While some critics say the city should have a longer-term approach, Tory says that would be unfair to homeless people.
“I’m not a big fan of this idea of giving people a permanent home, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t try to do that,” he added.
Toronto Mayor John Ford, a former mayor, has called the plan “sick,” but says the province should step in to cover the costs.
“If you’re going to have people staying on the streets for six months, it should be a temporary solution,” Ford said.
The province has promised to spend $1.2 billion over the next three years to create temporary shelters for homeless people across the province.