Mike spent years living on the streets, collecting scraps to survive and searching for a safe place to sleep. “Winter was especially hard. I had to hunt to find somewhere warm and safe to spend the night,” he says. “You get to a certain point in your life where you just need to be warm.” Unfortunately, he’s not alone. Homelessness is a harsh, and daily, reality faced by thousands of people in Peel, Toronto and York Region. In fact, nearly 5,000 Torontonians used the emergency shelter system on any given night in 2017—a 17.5% increase from the previous year. And homelessness isn’t just about paying the rent. Often, people who live on the streets deal with a host of other complex issues like mental illness, addiction and abuse that make it even harder, if not impossible, to break the cycle. The problem isn’t always easy to see, either. In York Region, for example, homelessness is often hidden because of individuals who “couch-surf” or temporarily stay with family or friends because they have nowhere else to go.
Homelessness across Greater Toronto is an unignorable issue that demands our attention. That’s why United Way supports emergency shelters, employment counselling and drop-in/meal programs that help meet the urgent needs of people living on the streets. In fact, we funded nearly 200 programs in Peel, Toronto and York Region last year that helped people experiencing homelessness. We’re also going one step further—digging into the “root” causes of this issue and working with our numerous partners across the region to design local solutions to this complex community problem. One example? The Peel Alliance to End Homelessness, a collaboration of community agencies and government partners working to improve the way we coordinate care for homeless people and families.