As temperatures in Toronto plummeted below zero overnight Sunday, the city opened three of its city-run warming centres, one of which will continue to accept new admissions.
The program is meant to offer vulnerable people and those experiencing homelessness a warm indoor place to rest, access snacks, use the washroom and obtain referrals to shelters during extreme cold snaps. The centres are activated and open when temperatures reach -5 C, or when Environment Canada issues a winter weather warning.
Overnight Sunday, the Elizabeth Street centre was at capacity, while the Olive Avenue centre was 94 per cent full, and the Scarborough centre was at 68 per cent of capacity.
The city said Monday that only the Elizabeth Street facility will continue to operate 24/7 and accept new admissions.
“Based on the current forecast, the Warming Centres at 15 Olive Ave. and 885 Scarborough Golf Club Rd. will close to new admissions,” it said.
WARMING SHELTERS IN TORONTO CITY COUNCIL
In February of this year, Toronto city council rejected the idea of immediately implementing 24/7 warming centres and declaring homelessness a public health crisis.
Instead, it opted to ask city staff for a report on the feasibility of operating the spaces open 24/7 during the winter months.
That report, reviewed by the Economic and Community Development Committee and released in April, called for lowering the threshold for activating the sites to -5C from -15C, and that one warming centre be available and open in each corner of the city between Nov. 15 and April 15.
During an April council meeting, accompanying motions were put forth by councillors Ainslie and Moise, which were both unanimously approved. Ainslie called for homelessness to be declared an emergency, while Moise’s motion requested SSHA prioritize the opening and operation of 24-hour respite sites in an effort to bring “stability and reliability” for both staff and clients.
Moise went on to say that he feels that Toronto has “come a long way” in the short time he’s been a city councillor, pointing to the increase in shelter beds from 6,000 to 9,000. He said what’s really needed is a regional strategy, one that gets the province involved in supporting all municipalities across Ontario so they can open respite centres.
In May, the city officially designated homelessness as a public health emergency after voting on the committee report.
BETTER WINTER PLAN NEEDED: ADVOCATES
Earlier this month, advocates released a proposed plan they hope will be implemented by the city to address the housing crisis during the winter months. The plan already released by the city in October is lacking, argues the Shelter Housing Justice Network (SHJN).
“There are still hundreds of people every night sleeping outside, unable to access an indoor shelter space,” Mika Wee with the SHJN said in a statement earlier this month.
“Their plan of having one 24-hour respite site with 40 spaces, 170 warming centers, warming center spaces across four sites set to open at minus five degrees and additional spots by reducing physical distancing and already overcrowded shelters is only setting up for more failure and harm,” Wee continued.
The SHJN’s plan outlines five areas it has deemed key in order for the city to effectively intervene in the housing crisis and can be viewed here.
With files from CP24’s Josh Freeman and Joanna Lavoie.