Lack of Safety in Homeless Shelters

Content by Marco Hidalgo Romero – 3rd-year student in the Computer Science Program at Sheridan College.

These observations are based on my research of observations by individuals who had visited or been residents of these shelters.


I started working in the Ripples of Kindness program one month before COVID-19 had turned into a worldwide pandemic. During that time, we were more easily able to interact with the homeless people coming for food at Paroisse du Sacre-Coeur Church in Toronto. One in particular mentioned how unsafe most homeless shelters were and how he would rather stay out in the streets than go indoors to one of those places ever again. As I investigated further, I found out that this guy was actually more correct than we could ever imagine about many homeless shelters. Below are issues with certain GTA shelters expressed in Google Reviews.

Cawthra Shelter (Mississauga)

  • Shelter staff lack empathy and compassion even for a dog (Charmaine Campbell, 2019).
  • Bathroom was moldy, no air conditioning (though the staff room supposedly had it), and fights and shootings during stay (Kevin Serrick, 2019).

Wilkinson Road Shelter (Brampton)

  • The staff are only there for their paycheque and will not do anything to resolve issues involving bedbugs or cleanliness (Danny Charest, 2019).
  • A Peel Region social services provider had reported horror stories from his clients including fentanyl smoking in the bathroom, extensive usage of drugs, unprotected sex, rape, and violence; they even considered the place worse than a prison and advised that even Cawthra Shelter was a better option (MBZ, 2018).

Queen Youth Shelter (Brampton)

  • Many fire and safety hazards (Ricky_Visionary, 2019).
  • Extremely disrespectful staff who call the residents names and threaten them (Ricky_Visionary, 2019).
  • Inedible food (Ricky_Visionary, 2019).
  • New rules constantly brought up out of nowhere (Ricky_Visionary, 2019).

Downtown Shelter – Toronto (Toronto)

  • The shelter became so overcrowded that they ran out of beds and started forcing new residents to sleep on the floor, sometimes under tables (Liaᴍ, 2019).

4 thoughts on “Lack of Safety in Homeless Shelters

  1. Another important issue in our world is our homeless people. These are the people that are the most disrespected in our society, their issues pushed away and unseen. They are still functioning members of our society, and as people, we need to be compassionate and caring for them in their time of need. They are alone and abandoned and what they need is somewhere warm and safe to stay, somewhere they can live without fear or scrutiny. This was thought to be the point of shelters, to help those in need and provide a home. However, the basic human dignities we all have are being denied to the homeless. They have no choice but to live in filthy and unwelcoming places, ones that were made to be safe and secure. The staff is unwelcoming and do not care about their wellbeing, the shelter is dirty and unlivable, as well as bad conditions and lack of empathy. These are people that are down on their luck, and are simply trying to get back up again, yet are consistently being faced with more problems in the shelters than before. We need to do better, take care of our homeless and show some compassion to those that are in need. We never know when we can be down on our luck, and we would want the same courtesy extended to us. We need to change these unpleasant environments in these shelters, and work to make them more livable for others. They described that sleeping on the street was better than in a shelter! These homeless shelters are inhumane, and our homeless people deserve better, and the common respect that every person deserves.

    1. I completely agree with you, Violet. Homelessness in Canada is indeed a big issue. According to Raising the Roof, about “235,000 Canadians experience homelessness each year”, and this number is expected to rise with time. Homelessness is not a choice, regardless of what the root cause of poverty may be. From substance use and abuse to domestic violence, we have no right to be judgmental about them and should instead show the same respect, compassion, and care for them as we would for non-homeless Canadians since they are still humans and deserve to be treated like so. Like Violet pointed out, we never know when it would be our turn to be homeless, and we would definitely not be happy if the staff at homeless shelters treated us as outcasts. I was actually quite shocked to learn that both the homeless shelters themselves as well as the people who work there could be so unpleasant—even in Canada—which is a topic/issue that I have personally never looked into. I am now beginning to wonder why homeless shelters are built in the first place and why they even have people working there. When I first heard the term “homeless shelter”, I thought it was going to be heaven for the homeless population, where they can—at least temporarily—forget about their worries and problems and embrace warmth, happiness, and security. However, after reading this article, I now know that this is far from true. What is the point in having all these homeless shelters and staff if they are not helping to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of homeless individuals significantly? To me, this is almost like wanting to show others (people in the community, other countries, etc.) that we care about them by pretending to do so (through the building of homeless shelters for the homeless population) when in fact we do not. Sure, providing homeless people with a roof over their heads is better than nothing, but we certainly need to do more.

      1. Violet and Melody, you both make wonderful points about the safety of homeless people in shelters. I wanted to emphasize the need to be compassionate towards homeless people (all people in general, but homeless people in this context) because I believe that it truly is the lack of compassion from society that causes these issues. I have often encountered people make very demeaning and ignorant comments about homeless people who you often see on the streets of downtown Toronto (or really anywhere), sometimes holding signs asking for money to support themselves. They’ll say things like “I would never give a homeless person money, they are all drug addicts, they will probably go and buy drugs with it” or “I don’t understand how people are homeless… just get a job”. I have even seen videos where people spit on homeless people who they see on the streets, just out of spite and to make them feel less than; it’s incredibly inhumane. We truly have no idea why people are homeless. I could be for countless reasons i.e being evicted due to low-income, being kicked out by previous homeowner (guardian, parent) for various possible reasons, having to run away due to abuse from home provider etc. Also, it really is not that easy to get a job, especially considering the circumstance that they have no home address. We have no right to judge them, both due to moral and spiritual reasons. We must respect the dignity of the human person and I always emphasize this truth when I encounter people who say such rude things about them. Often, they are pretty cool people who just ended up in unfortunate situations, sometimes due to bad decisions, but not always, and we must not assume. I am going to share a story because I think it’s relevant. I went on a school field trip downtown many years ago when I was still in elementary school and I was walking with my classmates and encountered this man who was sitting on the side of the sidewalk (it was very clear he was homeless, he had a bucket with coins, a backpack, a blanket etc. all with him). He was very friendly, he was telling us as we all passed by, to stay in school and be nice to our teachers, friends and family members; just giving us some life advice hahah. Many of us gave him some of our snacks and spare change and I could tell on his face that it really made a difference. This story sort of just emphasizes the fact that homeless people are living and breathing people with personalities and feeling and families just like us and they deserve both respect and support to get out of the situations they are in. They aren’t just entities on the street for people to walk by and belittle. I believe that one of the reasons it is so hard for homeless people to get out of their situations is 1) because they are marginalized and discriminated against by society 2) the government is not supporting them enough.

    2. Violet, Melody and Deborah – I think all of you have great insights to offer. The thread of concern that went on through the conversations here is the fact how the government have not been prioritized, “their issues pushed away and unseen.” I think this is not just a concern with homeless people, but rather, an issue that concerns the “marginalized” of society. The “marginalized” referenced here include not only the homeless, but the Indigenous people, the visible minorities, and in a particular way during this pandemic, the elderly. The inequities of society among the marginalized is seen even in the access to the most basic needs of life, is seen in the way the government has addressed the standard of living of the Indigenous people (e.g.
      When there are pressing issues that are close at heart of politicians and involve their own interest, issues get addressed quickly. When issues such as those of homelessness or the standard of life of Indigenous peoples, issues that do not seem to concern the politicians themselves, these issues get pushed aside. Unfortunately, they may take a striking event for action to take place. For example, the death of George Floyd was what sparked much conversation on racism in America and here in Canada. The discovery of unmarked graves in Kamploops recently sparked a renewed conversation on the topics of Truth and Reconciliation of Indigenous Peoples. The police brutality over the past days in Toronto regarding the clearing of encampments may spark conversation on the housing crisis in Toronto. However, it is the interests of governments that I think affect the way these issues get solved in the society that we live in. We look at our politicians – how many of them are Indigenous? How many politicians have actually journeyed with homeless people like Rick Tobias?
      How can we help? We can raise awareness through social media just like our own Awakening Project has been planning for the upcoming weeks on posts that would raise awareness of various issues. We can also write letters to our politicians, particularly our premier, mayor and councillors. We too, can take action, but we must invest our time and resources to amplify these concerns.
      Another thing to really show solidarity with the homeless is volunteering at a homeless shelter. I remember doing so for the first time in my grade 8 year as part of a community service initiative as part of the Sacrament of Confirmation preparation. I volunteered a Saturday morning at the Good Shepherd Centre in Downtown and it was a humbling experience. I returned there with my youth group, this time, my father and sister also came. It was New Year’s eve day – December 31. These holidays often meant time with family, in the warmth of out homes. Yet, being there reminded me of the reality that these people must live through. Making beds, sorting through linens and the food pantry were just some of the tasks we took on to show solidarity with these people, an act of service. I hope to go back there in the near future after the pandemic. We can walk and journey with these people, and be their voice in this society, therefore, move towards a more just society which helps everyone find not only a home, but a safe home full of the warmth of love and concern.

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