Denise Warriner says she can not put into words the pain she has felt since her 24-year-old niece, Daisy, died last month.
Warriner helped raise Daisy, whose midwife was unable to care for her due to mental health and substance abuse, but she left home in her teens and entered the care system. Daisy even struggled with drugs, got in and out of jail for petty crimes, and recently became homeless.
On November 28, Daisy was found dead from an overdose inside a shelter hotel room in Toronto. Her death came a year and a half after her mother, Danielle Stephanie Warriner, died after a confrontation with guards at a Toronto hospital.
“[Daisy] was such a beautiful, caring, sensitive and loving, super creative person, “Warriner said in an interview on CBC’s Metro tomorrow.
“There is indescribable pain. We are in excruciating pain.”
Daisy is one of more than 100 people who died while homeless in Toronto this year. Warriner believes her death could have been prevented, and a spokesman says the city of Toronto is not doing enough on the entire system to tackle the root causes of homelessness and prevent deaths among people who are not home.
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According to city data, 126 shelter residents died between January and November this year, including 91 men, 30 women and five transgender or non-binary people.
Doug Johnson Hatlem, a street pastor with Sanctuary Toronto, believes the total number of people who died while homeless this year is 180.
Community members from the Sanctuary and Church of the Holy Trinity keep a list of the names of those who die while homeless, and once a month they hold a memorial service to honor them. In December, they added 35 names to the list, including Daisy’s.
Warriner said Daisy had expressed a desire for help before her death, but was unable to access immediate support in her distress.
“When someone starts fighting, you look at … waiting lists and referrals and other roadblocks,” Denise said. “It’s missed opportunities, and so your loved one continues to spiral fast.”
Daisy was living in a shelter run by Homes First at the time she died. Warriner said the shelter has injury reduction grants in place, but there was a nine-hour period before Daisy’s death where she did not receive a wellness check – even though she had been identified as someone at high risk for overdose.
In a statement, Homes First Director James Facciolo said the organization is “incredibly sorry” over Daisy’s death.
“Homes First is deeply committed to providing a safe and compassionate space with as many support services as possible in our programs to help residents with a range of complex needs,” the statement said.
“We are also particularly dedicated to working with anyone who wants to advocate for solutions that will end the devastating opioid crisis that is currently inflicting on our country.”
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Lorraine Lam, an outreach worker at Sanctuary, said Metro tomorrow that the city’s response to homelessness was not effective before, and the situation only got worse with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Before the pandemic, people died of overdoses, people froze to death in the winter … shelters were full. The waiting lists for subsidized housing were over 10 years for a single person, with over 80,000 people waiting,” Lam said.
“… the system did not work, and [now] it crumbles quickly and furiously. “
City data shows that 9,199 people gained access to the shelter in November, a net increase of 252 people that month. About 250 were moved to permanent residence.
Lam said the solution to homelessness is more affordable housing, and she criticized the city for throwing people out of tent camps earlier this year.
She said some people do not feel safe in shelters, in part due to lack of personal protective equipment and quick tests. (There are seven active COVID-19 outbreaks at city-run shelters, accounting for 54 cases.)
“When people feel they have no options, they do what they have to to survive,” Lam said. “So we’re going to see more people end up outside.”
In a statement, the city said it was sad to hear of a client’s death, and highlighted a number of measures it is taking to address opioid-related overdoses in the shelter. Some of them include the opening of supervised places of consumption, the implementation of peer-witness programs, the provision of drug control services and the hiring of harm reduction workers.
It also highlighted efforts to advocate for the safe supply of opioids and for the decriminalization of all drugs for personal use.
A separate press release on Thursday said the city is taking proactive measures to protect the health and safety of people experiencing homelessness.
“The city ensures that vulnerable people can access emergency shelters when they need them, and is helped to find permanent housing as quickly as possible,” the statement said. “From January to November 2021, the city helped more than 3,100 homeless people move from the shelter system to permanent housing.”