Toronto, We Need To Do Better

The intersection of Yonge and Dundas in Toronto's downtown core is a sight to behold. The vibrancy and ever-present glow of large billboards make it appear as if it's daylight 24/7. The plethora of big-box stores, where hoards of tourists and Torontonians alike spend money on fast-fashion polyester sweaters and pricey lattes, beckons visitors as a refuge during the cold Canadian winters.

If you venture three or four blocks east however, the landscape changes dramatically. The intersection of Dundas and Sherbourne is home to the highest amount of overdose-related 911 calls in Toronto, according to Street Health. According to the Toronto Star, three of Toronto's largest shelters are located in the downtown east end - an indication of the area’s economic situation. The area is also populated by a large homeless population, many of whom likely battle substance addiction and/or severe mental illnesses. It is a eye-opening site to see. In a city that prides itself for its inclusivity and equal-opportunity, it's a stark realization to see people just like you and I, who lack the basic human rights of food, shelter, and healthcare.

What is truly concerning about the area is the lack of awareness surrounding it. Surprisingly, it seems very few Torontonians are aware of the abject poverty that occurs in their own backyards.

Ryerson University is located at the very core of downtown Toronto, and each day, thousands of students parade through the streets, heads down on their way to class. However, I encourage everyone to actually take an objective look at the sights around you. You’ll notice a substantial amount of people huddled up in blankets, sitting on street corners. On a minus 10 degrees Celsius day, I’m sure you can imagine how tremendously uncomfortable this is. Yet, this is the reality for thousands of people across the city.

I can berate you with facts and statistics, and with hard empirical data that shows Toronto's homeless population is being hurt faster than they are being healed. There’s more than enough data and statistical analysis to back up this fact, but even after multiple studies are published, the situation is still not getting any better. 

Why is that?

The resources are lacking, and even as the city grows more tolerant and open to new alternatives to help those in need, too many people are still ignorant to those who are most vulnerable.

Winter in Toronto is certainly no walk in the park. With the temperature consistently dipping well into the negatives, homeless people are at a heightened risk of danger.

If you want to make a difference, here are some simple ways you can help:

  1. 1. Buy someone a warm drink or meal

    I'm definitely guilty of spending way too much money on fancy holiday-themed drinks,  but why not direct some of that money to help someone in need? For $5, you can buy someone a hot drink and a bagel from Tim Hortons. The gesture is small but the impact is large.

  2. 2. Socks, socks, socks!

    Socks are a necessity during the winter and are often overlooked by people willing to donate. Go out to your local Walmart and pick up some bulk packs of socks, and hand them out to anyone in need.

  3. 3. Make care packages

    Take a large Ziploc bag and fill it with basic necessities: toothpaste, a toothbrush, mittens, soap, etc.

  4. 4. Educate yourself

    There are a lot of harmful stereotypes about homelessness. Remember that homelessness occurs for a wide variety of reasons. Read up on local shelters and volunteer groups. For starters, check out Homes First and Street Health