As Temperatures Drop, Shelters Are On The Rise.


As Temperatures Drop, Shelters Are On The Rise.

Frigid temperatures started off the new year as Toronto got hit with the ‘weather bomb’ that swept through from the east coast and knocked out power to thousands. Temperatures reached negative double digits which sent Toronto scrambling to find emergency shelters for the homeless.

As we enter the peak season for shelter occupancy, questions arise over the available space and need for increased housing for our homeless population. While there are continued efforts to increase the amount of shelters coming from Toronto’s Mayor, there is also opposition.

Toronto Mayor John Tory received pushback for voting against opening Moss Park Armoury in December, as well as Fort York Armoury weeks before the cold break dramatically increased the need for shelter spaces. Tory stated earlier this month that the city will work with Ottawa to turn the federal armouries into a shelter during the chilly winter months. 

The city has opened two warming centres in the interim: one at Metro Hall and one located at Regent Park Community Centre. They will remain open until the extreme weather alert ends. The centres offer warm food and beverages, with paramedics on site. The city also sent out a few ambulances to patrol the core in the event there is anyone on the streets.

Unfortunately, these temporary solutions fail to address Mayor Tory’s December announcement to open 400 additional shelter spaces in the city. The Mayor’s plan included freeing up space in current shelters and opening up motel rooms. It is estimated it will cost the city about $10.6 million, which will come out of the city’s reserve funds. Tory plans to have more than half of those spaces readily made available by the end of January, and the remainder spaces a few weeks later.

A 60-bed shelter has opened this month in Leslieville, replacing Toronto’s Hope Shelter. While it is certainly a welcomed addition for the community, the Salvation Army, who runs the facility, noted that it took years to find a suitable location given the amount of push back from various communities. The Salvation Army noted that not all shelters are welcomed by the community at large.

Given the strong and vocal “Not In My Backyard” campaign, the City of Toronto has launched a number of programs aimed at dispelling misconceptions about the homeless and homeless shelters. Working alongside the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness, the city hopes to change community sentiment, to one more open and inclusive.

Before the city can table long term solutions desperately needed (relating to housing solutions) the city needs to change public sentiment. If communities are more willing to adopt and accept shelters, it’s likely the Salvation Army or public funded programs will find an easier and quicker route to finding solutions for Toronto’s homeless, especially during these frigid months.

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