Outreach workers to help support unhoused people on TTC in year-long pilot project

Outreach workers to help support unhoused people on TTC in year-long pilot project
Outreach workers to help support unhoused people on TTC in year-long pilot project

Arabnews24.ca:Wednesday 22 March 2023 08:27 PM: A new partnership between the City of Toronto, TTC and a community organization will see outreach workers fan out onto the city's public transit system to provide more supports to unhoused people on the TTC, officials said Wednesday.

Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie announced the one-year pilot program with LOFT Community Services at a news conference at Davisville station. The organization, which stands for Leap of Faith Together, helps people struggling with mental and physical problems, addictions, dementia and homelessness.

The announcement comes as unhoused people continue to seek shelter on the transit system. It also comes as Toronto police announced an end to extra patrols on city transit, with on-duty officers carrying out out regular proactive patrols on the TTC instead.

McKelvie said the idea behind the partnership is to increase safety and supports on the TTC.

"We want to help people. We want to help people get access to supports, help people have access to stable and supportive housing, and ultimately, to ensure that they are on the long-term path out of homelessness," McKelvie told reporters.

"While the safety issues on our transit system are complex, this is one of the ways the city and the TTC are taking immediate action."

In a news release on Wednesday, the city said it expects the outreach pilot program will help about 80 to 100 people who are experiencing homelessness and who use the transit system for shelter. It added that the LOFT is not a crisis response service.

"LOFT specializes in one-on-one support with daily living, assistance navigating the healthcare and justice systems, tailored referrals to addiction health care providers and other social services, and expert and peer support for community reintegration," the city said.

In its latest budget, city council approved a one-time increase of $500,000 in TTC funding to cover the costs of the program. Under the program, the city said it will expand its "multi-disciplinary outreach teams" that provide health and social supports to unhoused people on the TTC. 

Coun. Shelley Carroll proposed the motion that led to the funding increase.

Left to right: TTC CEO Rick Leary, Toronto Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie and Coun. Shelley Carroll. (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

Heather McDonald, CEO of LOFT, said its staff will work with the city's Streets to Homes teams to identify people in need. Outreach workers can then refer people to other programs that deal with addiction and health care, she added.

"The team will help individuals by working with them one-on-one to meet their complex health and social care needs," she said.

"We start by helping people with their basic needs, such as getting medical attention, and work with them to access things like income supports."Outreach workers will be deployed to areas they are needed most, she added.

More resources needed, advocate says

But at least one transit advocate says more resources are needed on the public transit system.

Monica Mason, co-ordinator of the advocacy group TTCrider, said the program is a "good first step" but the group would like to see more investment in TTC safety.

"It is quite small, the scale of it. It's three outreach workers and a nurse and some psychiatrist support," Mason said.

According to city data on its Shelter System Flow Data page, the number of people actively homeless in Toronto in the last three months is 10,849.

Meanwhile, according to city data on its Shelter System Requests for Referrals page, the average daily number of individual callers "unmatched" to a shelter last month was 72, which means at least 72 people a night were unable to secure a shelter bed.

Advocates have said they think the number of people being turned away from Toronto shelters is far higher.

Wednesday's announcement follows after a string of violent attacks on the TTC but in a recent report, the TTC noted that there is no data to support the idea that unhoused people are responsible for the violence on the transit system.

"While there is no empirical evidence that persons experiencing homelessness and individuals with complex needs are related to increased safety incidents on the TTC, the increase in persons experiencing homelessness and individuals with complex needs affects customers' sense of safety throughout the system, and cleanliness of the overall transit experience," the TTC said.

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