Cost of Peel’s shelter overflow sees nearly 20-fold increase in just 4 years; system is 270% above capacity
Region of Peel staff responsible for managing the emergency shelter system are painfully aware of the dangerous lack of space for those who need housing. For years, the upper-tier municipality has approved contracts with local hotels to keep people safe from the cold. Staff know this is not a sustainable solution.
On Thursday, regional councillors learned $42 million, at a minimum, will be needed next year to fund adequate overflow emergency shelter space, a staggering increase from just four years ago when Peel paid approximately $2.5 million for overflow hotel rooms.
The numbers tell a bleak story.
“Over the last few years, and since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency response, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Peel has increased to unprecedented levels,” the staff report presented last week explains. “The system is struggling to keep up with demand. It is estimated that available resources meet 19 percent of core housing need in our community.”
According to Regional government data, there are 91,000 households in need of some form of housing assistance in Peel, with approximately 73,710 households in precarious housing situations without badly needed assistance just as the coldest months of the year arrive.
The data show more people will struggle to stay safe this winter.
There are approximately 102 asylum-claimants living unsheltered outside Mississauga’s Dundas Street shelter, waiting for space. The Region has identified 128 encampments where small numbers of people are sheltering in close proximity this year, a 167 percent increase over 2022.
The Region has identified a 167 percent increase in encampments over 2022.
(The Pointer Files)
“Compared to other jurisdictions like Toronto, Waterloo and Hamilton, which have large encampments concentrated in a few locations, Peel’s encampments are relatively small, and exist in a variety of locations that are sometimes hidden from sight,” the regional report highlights.
It details the alarming increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness and the immense strain on the emergency shelter system.
Peel’s shelters are currently operating at 270 percent capacity. But measures to provide overflow space still can’t keep everyone sheltered. With cold weather already setting in, officials are searching for answers.
“This is a massive crisis,” Councillor Christina Early said during Thursday’s meeting. “Our federal and provincial government must step up. It’s not even an issue of imploring or advocating, this is unheard of that they aren’t making this a priority file.”
Her claims of irresponsibility at other levels of government failed to address the failure of regional councillors to adequately fund the housing budget, while approving increases for police services that have been well above the rate of inflation (the police force is asking for a 14 percent spike this year), and also greenlighting steep budget hikes for utilities and other services.
The precarious housing crisis did not just drop on Peel’s doorstep, it has been worsening for much of the last decade, with repeated failures by regional councillors to adequately plan and budget for not just emergency shelter space, but the creation of affordable units and available rent subsides to address what has been unfolding right in front of them. Staff have made dozens of presentations and put together at least 20 reports over the last decade detailing the declining housing situation across much of Peel.
But elected officials have repeatedly failed to support, through tough budget decisions, the housing needs of Peel’s residents.
In 2018, councillors endorsed a 10-year housing and homelessness road map, titled Home For All, with ambitious targets designed to meet the rapidly growing need for affordable housing. In total, the plan established Peel needed 7,500 new units in three categories annually, including 2,500 that would be affordable for low-income earners. The 75,000 homes across a decade were expected to dramatically improve the precarious housing situation, with an alarming 2020 report to council that showed 80 percent of Peel residents could not afford rental or ownership prices at the time.
At least 80 percent of Peel residents in 2020 could not afford ownership or rental prices in the region.
(Region of Peel)
After three years of inadequate investment by the region’s elected officials, the plan was quietly abandoned by the Region of Peel. Their irresponsible decision making was highlighted by a staff report that showed, despite a goal to make one in every ten new homes built affordable to low-income families, in the three years following the approval of the Home for All strategy, less than 1 in 2,600 units that came online met that threshold.
The waitlist for housing assistance has been another sign of neglect by regional councillors as the housing crisis grew precipitously dire. In 2019, the number of households waiting for assistance sat at 14,997. By the end of 2021, the number had nearly doubled to 28,227, a staggering 88 percent increase in just two years. The figure did not go up significantly the following year, but regional staff said they did not have updated numbers at the end of 2022. It’s unclear how many people are currently on the Region’s affordable housing waitlist.
If the failure of Home for All and the ballooning waitlist were not enough to convince councillors to push housing to the top of the priority list, the cost for emergency shelter spaces has repeatedly exceeded the available budget. In 2019, the Region paid approximately $1.8 million more than was initially budgeted to cover shelter overflow spaces needed to ensure no one seeking a bed at a permanent facility was turned away (hotels are rented to accommodate people when shelters are filled; staff have reported they are chronically over capacity).
At the start of this year, Peel budgeted $4 million for shelter overflow space (along with $19.3 million for the whole shelter system). The 2023 budget projected to meet only 75 percent of the actual shelter need in Peel. Now, the Region anticipates the total cost of overflow space alone for 2023 to be $26.9 million. Approximately $15 million of this is attributed to the increase in asylum claimants seeking assistance in Peel. And next year, the overflow cost is projected to be at least $42 million. These huge increases represent a near vertical spike on a graph representing the rise in cost…and, most worryingly, need.
Asylum claimants have made up a large portion of the rising number of people experiencing homelessness, the report states, highlighting that 62 percent of households (not individuals) residing in the Region’s shelters and overflow systems are asylum claimants.
“As a result, the shelter system is operating above 270 per cent occupancy and an average of 156 calls per week result in a person having to be turned away from service due to a lack of beds,” the report reveals.
“This is insanity,” Councillor Mario Russo said. “We need to implore our provincial and federal partners, this cannot be done with Regional Council alone… These numbers are just atrocious.”
The Region runs eight emergency shelters that have a total of 449 beds. Use of Peel’s shelter system increased by 43 percent from 2021 to 2022, which amounts to more than 4,000 people, which the report attributes in large part to the rise in family and youth homelessness. “In 2022, 455 families used Peel’s shelter system, doubling the number of families served compared to 2021,” it states. Youth in emergency shelters increased by 53 percent, with 694 youth using the system in 2022.
The regional report highlights the reality for these vulnerable residents, including that the life expectancy for people experiencing homelessness is 30 years less than a “stably housed person in Canada.” It highlights how Peel Outreach has begun to see a rise in seniors and youth facing homelessness, compared to the usual demographic of single adult men and women between 25 and 54 years of age. It has also found an increase in people “who have never experienced homelessness before,” the report states.
“Several strategies funded appropriately and implemented simultaneously are needed to reduce or eliminate homelessness,” Aileen Baird, Director of Housing Services said. “There are no silver bullets and market housing is not the solution… How many affordable units for low income families will get built through the market? The answer to that question is zero. Zero. And so it's really important that we understand that providing deeply affordable and supportive housing requires different policy solutions and different types of investments.”
Baird said for every one person the Region is able to support, they turn away four. She highlighted how this issue is one that disproportionately affects members of the community who are racialized or visible minorities.
Approved plans are in place to add 338 beds to Peel’s emergency shelter system by 2028 (186 of these are replacement beds). The Region is also proposing $6 million in 2024 for rental subsidies to help 300-400 households; $4 million in additional medical supports for those experiencing homelessness; and additional space for asylum claimants, although few details have been made available.
“Staff has identified a possible solution and will present it to Council through a future report,” according to Thursday’s presentation.
Long-term plans include prioritizing a Family Shelter in Brampton as well as adding space throughout Peel for single adults, as well as the potential construction of high-quality modular units.
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