Warming up winter for everyone

As Canadians, we’ll go to almost any lengths to fight the winter’s chill. Consider: In 1996, a city councillor in Saskatoon endorsed spending $80 million to build a climate-controlled glass atrium, to be called “Atreos,” over part of that city’s downtown. (No, it didn’t happen.)

To date, no one has proposed building a giant glass dome over Toronto. There are certainly some of us who might appreciate it, however, especially as we head into the coldest months of the year.

There is no “easy” time to be living on the streets or in and out of shelters, but winter is certainly the hardest. The season brings us a lot of news about the hardships faced by Torontonians who are homeless, and with over 5,000 people estimated to be in need of a place to sleep on any given night, there are only about 4,000 shelter beds city-wide. (The city opens up emergency beds open when the temperature drops to 15 below, but not enough to make up the difference—and besides, spending the night outside in any sub-zero temperature is dangerous.)

But it’s not just people who are homeless for whom winter poses unique challenges. It’s everyone struggling to make ends meet, and in 2013, that’s more Torontonians than ever before. According to the City of Toronto:

  • 87,000 Torontonians are on the wait-list for affordable housing, almost as many as there are units in total (approximately 95,000).
  • Between April 2012 and March 2013, there were 1,120,000 visits to food banks in Toronto.
  • Use of shelter beds went up 3.6 percent from 2011 to 2012—nightly use consistently exceeds 90 percent of available spaces.

And more than 557,000 people—one-fifth of the city’s population— are living in poverty. Many live in our inner suburbs in under-serviced tower neighbourhoods, where, astonishingly, up to 60 percent of residents don’t have driver’s licenses. This means they rely on public transit and their own two feet to get around low-density, suburban communities, where a walk to the store is a lot longer than a quick trip down the block.

Of course, there are ways you can help, like visiting our Warmest Wishes 2013 Gift Catalogue and purchase one of United Way’s winter-care gift packages: everything from a Personal Care Kit to a full Winter Outfitters Package full of warm clothing. It’s a small thing, but it makes a difference.

Whatever we do this holiday season to make 2014 easier for our neighbours, let’s be thankful we live in a city full of so many caring people.