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TORONTO - On April 19 the City of Toronto is planning to use 1500 volunteers to question and count homeless people in the downtown core, in what they are calling a ‘needs assessment’.

A number of Toronto CUPE locals, including those whose members work directly with the homeless community, object to this count and support the position of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee.

Our locals and members have expressed concern on a number of fronts:

Vulnerability – Teams with little to no training are being instructed to go into “parks, streets and ravines.” This is the personal space for homeless people. To ask uninvited teams of people to violate the sanctity of that space puts homeless people at greater risk for exploitation, harm and relocation.

Reliability – This project will not reflect the true picture of homelessness in the City. It will not include the transient homeless or those forced underground.

We’ve spoken to a number of front line workers who have developed trust relationships with many in the homeless community and they are not able to say where the encampments are nor where their clients go at night,” says Geoff MacDonald, Steward CUPE Local 2998 “How can volunteers find them when these front line workers themselves don’t know where the homeless live?” CUPE Local 2998 represents the front line workers of the City of Toronto Community Centres, including those who work in volunteer services and with the homeless community.

At the end of the day the City is putting resources into a project that will not provide an accurate overview.

Complex and confusing – the information and material that has been made available by the City is extremely confusing. This complex process is being implemented without consultation with front line workers who have years of experience working within this community, workers who have built and established relationships with the homeless.

Double standard – any other census is carried out by paid staff. Why are the homeless population being treated differently and with such disrespect?

CUPE members, like most Canadians, support volunteerism and many of our members are volunteers in various sectors. However, using volunteers in this project is a serious issue, they become part of an invading force, descending on the homeless in their quarters, asking questions and undermining their safety.

Whether a needs assessment or a headcount,” says MacDonald. “We know what the needs of the homeless are, we know there are many homeless in the City and we have many reports detailing what needs to be done.”

Now is the time to implement these recommendations. It is not the time for yet another, wasteful study.”


For further information, contact:
Wendy Forbes, CUPE Communications, 416-292-3999 ext. 278; 416-892-8716 (cell)