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Rest in power Crystal Papineau

Mary Code

January 14, 2019

On Wednesday January 9 2019, in -20 degree weather, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) alongside Sistering Shelter hosted a vigil in the Bloorcourt neighbourhood for Crystal Papineau, the latest victim of Toronto’s shelter and housing crisis. Crystal was an incredibly loving woman, whom was also homeless, and she died by getting trapped inside of a clothing donation bin near the shelter. On the night that she died, women’s shelters across Toronto were full, and all drop in centres for women and trans people were over their capacity.

Despite the frigid temperatures, and despite media outlets reporting that attendance was “in the dozens”, the vigil was well attended with approximately 80-100 family, friends, and community members that brought candles, signs, and flowers, and there were a handful of speakers whom all echoed similar sentiments: Toronto has a serious housing crisis.

Speakers shared their frustrations with Toronto Mayor John Tory and also the media’s response to Crystal’s death, as both establishments are spinning this issue into one that is about the design of clothing donation boxes; Tory’s team has begun a review of the safety and effectiveness of donation bins, and many media outlets have been busy sensationalizing the statistics of the injuries and deaths that they cause. In fact, Tory’s desire to abolish donation boxes across the Greater Toronto Area have even prompted cities such as Ottawa to begin consultations on the boxes, moving in the direction to phase them out completely as well. Speakers noted how this response was completely tone deaf, and was a calculated effort to scapegoat the real issue in Crystal’s death, which lies of course with Toronto’s severe housing crisis and under-funding of shelters. One speaker shared that at Sistering, a 24-hour shelter in the neighbourhood that Crystal would frequent, many women sleep on the floor as there are not enough beds for everyone.

Organizers noted that last year, community members fought to get Tory to add some respite and open 56 more beds across the GTA, but the opening of these beds keeps getting delayed, and the respite and funding has not only been slow to implement, but it is not enough to keep up with the demands for shelter.

One thing is for certain: Crystal’s death will not be in vain. This vigil had clear calls to action for Tory and the city, and organizers have a concrete list of demands, including 2000 emergency shelter beds across all sectors in 2019, smaller shelter models that are low threshold and harm reduction informed, the building of safe, supportive, rent-geared-to-income, and accessible housing for all, the funding of harm reduction programs and overdose prevention services across the city, the expansion of funding and resources to enhance services at 24/7 women and trans drop ins, and that the city increases detox beds for women and trans people and reduce barriers to access.

Crystal could have been any of us. We need more pressure on Tory to respond to our housing crisis and to provide the funding that will increase the quality of life for so many. It’s not about the design of a box, rather it’s about the belief that emergency services deserve funding, and the realization that having a safe and dry place to sleep at night is a human right.

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