Finding refuge from Toronto's cold streets

Ernie - who is homeless - outside Evangel Hall, with the Out of the Cold program, in downtown...

Ernie - who is homeless - outside Evangel Hall, with the Out of the Cold program, in downtown Toronto on Tuesday, January 21, 2014. (Ernest Doroszuk/QMI Agency)

Sue-Ann Levy, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:28 AM ET

TORONTO - Richard Dunbar has lived on the street for two years since being evicted for non-payment of rent.

Nevertheless, the 56-year-old survives quite nicely — even on winter’s coldest nights — travelling from church to synagogue every day to partake in that day’s Out of the Cold program.

At these programs, he’s fed, clothed and given accommodation for the night.

“You have breakfast, get up and go on to next destination, go to next church,” he said. “It’s a full-time job.”

Funded to the tune of $930,000 this year, the Out of the Cold program operates at 18 churches and synagogues from November to March.

When I met Dunbar Tuesday night at Metro Hall’s Warming Centre — where he’d come in from -19C temperatures and a -33C windchill — he was very eager to talk about the city’s rich variety of services for the homeless.

“As far as I’m concerned the city of Toronto has everything to offer … it’s beautiful,” he said. “There’s no reason for anybody to be hungry.”

In fact, he said, with all the services in Toronto there’s no reason to be living on the street — except “by choice.”

Having been categorized a Level 1 offender and in and out of jail during his lifetime, he concedes alcohol is indeed at the root of his problems.

It was precisely with those rich variety of services in mind — including the focus of the city’s homeless officials on finding permanent shelter for Toronto’s street people — that I decided to do a tour of the downtown streets and the homeless haunts I’ve come to know with Toronto Sun photographer Ernest Doroszuk.

I chose one of the coldest nights of January so far to see if the homeless were indeed coming in from the cold and if not, why not.

After all, for virtually all of my 16 years covering city and provincial politics, I’ve watched as hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into counting the hard-core homeless, getting them off the street and into not-so-affordable housing.

Since 2005 when mayor David Miller was in power — and continuing under Rob Ford — some $14 million alone has been spent yearly on an army of social workers (66 at present) whose job it is to find permanent homes for the homeless and to encourage beggars not to ply their trade on the city’s streets. Another $11.5 million was shelled out for the Peter St. shelter and assessment centre — a project that went 100% over budget.


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