Toronto City Council approved last-minute amendments to the $16.16 billion budget plan yesterday to improve services for homeless people.
“You’ll remember this day for the rest of your life,” said Paula Fletcher, the councillor for Ward 14 Toronto-Danforth, after council recessed for the second time.
Council held a special meeting to discuss the budget proposed by Mayor John Tory, which contains a $48 million increase for police, a housing tax hike and cuts to the TTC budget.
The budget includes keeping youth spaces open in city facilities, more than $140 million for the waterfront including two replacement ferries, increasing public library funding by $5 million, $2 billion for the implementation and legalization of multi-tenant housing, $7.08 million for the Eviction Prevention Intervention plan, and boosts the TTC’s operation budget by $53 million to a total of almost $1 billion.
The most controversial aspect of the budget was the allocation for police. The $48 million boost to the $1 billion budget would mean 200 more police officers, anti-violence programming to youths and families, a $3.8 million boost to expand the Toronto Community Crisis Service pilot for non-police responses to persons in crisis, and the hiring of up to 200 firefighters.
However, it doesn’t contain any information about improving services for homeless people and increasing its funding. On Feb. 9, councillors voted against extending the 24-hour warming centres until April.
Gord Perks, the councillor for Ward 4 Parkdale-High Park, called the Strong Mayor Act “a very bad law” when only the elected mayor can approve the budget.
“That law needs to be repealed because it puts councillors in a terrible position,” he said. “It shows why this undemocratic legislation is bad legislation.”
When the meeting began, spectators started to protest and began booing and shouting “John Tory resign!” as the mayor took the podium.
“House the homeless, feed the poor, kick John Tory out the door,” they shouted in unison.
The protesters said they wanted Tory and councillors to hear their concerns about the increase in homelessness rates and housing prices.
“I saw six homeless people when I walked through Queen’s Street this morning. Let’s talk about it,” a protester said.
“This city, on an annual basis, has publicly executed poor people by slow torture,” he said.
The meeting recessed after the demonstrators refused to leave the council chambers.
“They [the government] don’t care about others. They think homeless people are classless,” said Julian Durren, a construction worker, who participated in the protest. “They only think about filling their pockets.”
Durren told Humber News that destroying homeless people’s camps is “stupid.”
“The government increases the housing prices some of us can’t afford to pay. Then, they are getting rid of the camps that people built just to survive,” he said. “It’s a deadly and endless chain.”
At the end of the meeting, councillors proposed some changes to the budget plan.
Alejandra Bravo, councillor for Ward 9 Davenport, introduced a motion that suggests relocating 0.08 per cent, or $900,000 from the police budget, for shelter, support, and housing administration.
“We know that homelessness is a crisis facing Toronto like it hasn’t before,” she said. “Safety is so much more than just one dimension. It’s having a place to sleep at night.”
Bravo said that this amount of money could make a change.
“This is such a small amount of money but it can make such a massive difference,” she said.
This proposition didn’t pass having 17 councillors voted against it.
However, Shelley Carrol, the councillor for Ward 17 Don Valley North, had her motion to be approved causing last-minute changes. The motion gives funding boots for the unhoused, TTC safety and increases the city’s Rent Bank program.
City Council approved Tory’s budget plan that provides $800,000 to open one additional warming centre to help homeless people until April 15.
Chris Moise, councillor for Ward 13 Toronto Centre, proposed creating a one-year pilot that provides a mental health support team for those unhoused.
“We will hire mental health outreach workers to help address some of these needs,” Moise said.
The council voted to spend $500,000 on this initiative.
Amid controversies regarding Tory’s resignation, he announced he would leave the mayor’s office at 5 p.m. on Friday.