The pandemic has caused many problems in Toronto such as a severe increase in inflation and housing prices. The pandemic’s effect on violence in homeless shelters in Toronto is an unanswered question. Did the problem get worse, better or barely change at all? My opinion is that the problem of violence in homeless shelters has changed, and for the worse.
First, COVID-19 has caused tensions to rise because of the fear of catching the virus and all the societal norms changing with new COVID measures. Homeless shelters in Toronto have had an increase in violence over the pandemic as the number of violent incidents per month on average has increased by 200% in the last five years. In 2016, there was an average of 120 incidents per month, but when recorded again in January 2021, it was found to have increased to an average of 368 incidents per month. This number is scary by itself, but this doesn’t even include the incidents that weren’t reported. Finally, on June 8,2021 Toronto City Council took a survey of the reasons why homeless people avoid homeless shelters. The top reason was lack of safety. This reason made up thirty-five percent of the responses. This increase threatens the safety and lives of those who try to find peace and a home in these homeless shelters. Shelters should be a place of safety and order, but have instead become places of violence and chaos.
The tensions of COVID-19 aren’t the only thing that made violence get worse. Drugs have also affected violence during the pandemic. More homeless people in homeless shelters are beginning to switch more towards crystal meth. Mary-Anne Bedard, general manager of shelter, support and housing department in Toronto, said, “People moved from crystal meth to opioids a number of years ago, but have shifted back to crystal meth – which has the potential for people to act more erratically and more violently sometimes.” Bedard’s experience has proven that the homeless have shifted more towards crystal meth that can make them violent which explains the increase in violence over the pandemic. In conclusion, the increased of crystal meth during the pandemic overall makes the behavior of the unhoused population more violent and agitated that leads to violent incidents.
Finally, overcrowding is a big problem that affected homeless shelters before COVID, but has gotten even worse. Low-income households have had financial problems from high inflation and small businesses closing down to high housing prices and unemployment problems. The Trudeau government has tried to help those financially unstable by launching a COVID relief bill, but the amount wasn’t enough to help with total financial stability through the pandemic and many people became homeless. The COVID relief bill provides a $10,000 grant to those businesses that are eligible, such as restaurants and event spaces. The COVID relief bill also includes a benefit of giving $300 a week in income support to eligible workers who are impacted by COVID-19. This is according to the Government of Ontario Newsroom and the Government of Canada website. This increase in homelessness led to even worse overcrowding in homeless shelters in Toronto. This caused an increase in violence because there weren’t enough beds for all the homeless that some didn’t even have beds in the shelter. Michael Eschbach is a 60-year-old man that has been in the city-run homeless shelter system for nine years and has had experience’s being in homeless shelters. “The city kept stuffing more and more beds into the basement of this church, so it became so overcrowded, like a rat cage, and then all sudden you could see people snipping and getting testy with each other,” Eschbach told CTV News Toronto.This increase in violence is especially dangerous as many small families now live in homeless shelters because of the pandemic and the increase in violence is a huge threat to them. Overcrowding has increased during the pandemic in Toronto because of lockdowns and economic troubles. The increase in overcrowding then pushed the stress of those in shelters further and further leading to violence.
A solution that the City of Toronto has come up with, but is still in progress is the use of city-run hotel shelters. Hotel shelters are homeless shelters that are run inside hotels. Eschbach is having an experience in one right now and this is what he has to say, “It’s less, less crowding right off the bat. These hotel shelters work really well. There’s violence here, but it’s not as bad as an actual shelter. That’s because of the separation. Everybody gets their own space to go.” Eschbach’s experience has proven that this solves the problems of overcrowding and lowers the threat of spreading COVID-19. Though, this solution is only temporary.
The violence in homeless shelters in Toronto has gotten worse. The threat of COVID-19, change to crystal meth, and increase in overcrowding has put much stress on the homeless population that has come in the form of increasing violence in homeless shelters. Though, the City of Toronto’s solution of city-run hotel shelters is working, but is only temporary.
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