City plans to open more warming centers for homeless people when extreme cold strikes again

City officials have said they will consider opening more warming centers than usual for homeless people this weekend as extreme cold is expected in Toronto again.

“We are looking at options for more space,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said on Wednesday at a city hall press briefing.

“We are reviewing this every day. We will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the safety of those individuals.”

The city is opening four warming centers during extremely cold winters that provide a warm place indoors to rest, snacks, washrooms and referrals to emergency shelters.

Members of the Shelter and Housing Justice Network, which includes homeless advocates, shelter providers, health professionals, legal workers, religious leaders and researchers, are calling for four additional warming centers.

When temperatures drop to -15 ° C or below, or when the wind chill is expected to drop to -20 or below, the city’s medical officer of health issues an extreme cold alert and local services, including warming centers, are activated. .

City is exploring options to increase capacity, official says

Gord Tanner, acting director general of the city’s Shelter Support and Housing Administration, told the press conference that the city recognizes the need for more warming centers.

“Certainly, we continue to explore options to open up additional capacity,” Tanner said. “Looking forward to the weekend, hopefully we’ll add some extra capacity just to make sure everyone has a warm place to go.”

Tanner said there are 165 spaces in its warming centers, and as part of its 2021-2022 winter services plan, the city has opened 325 new indoor spaces.

The situation is particularly dire as 46 homeless shelters in the city are experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19, according to the City of Toronto’s Pandemic Data Dashboard as of Wednesday. There are 345 active cases among shelter residents and one person is hospitalized.

Homeless advocates have said it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find a bed in a shelter these days. Defenders tried unsuccessfully to find accommodation beds for the homeless this week.

“The combination of shelter epidemics and the lack of warm indoor spaces means that so many vulnerable people are left outside,” Lorraine Lam, an outreach worker with Sanctuary Ministries in Toronto, said Tuesday.

In his opening speech at the press conference, Tory said the city is closely monitoring the spread of COVID-19 in shelters.

Seaton House, the city’s largest men’s shelter, is currently battling an outbreak of COVID-19. It has 25 active cases and one person hospitalized with COVID-19, according to city data released on Wednesday. (Robert Krbavac / CBC)

“Throughout the pandemic, the City of Toronto has made the health and safety of people who are homeless, living in shelters and outdoor environments a priority, and will continue to do so, especially now in light of the Omicron variant, ”Tory said.

“We’ve seen how quickly this variant can spread and one of the places that concerns me the most and focuses the most on daily updates is the shelter system.”

The mayor said frontline staff were working hard to keep the shelter system stable, but homeless advocates said they believed the shelter system had collapsed.

“The best defense for maintaining a safe environment in shelters and the wider community, ensuring that as many people as possible within the shelter system are fully immunized – this is the best defense against the threat posed by Omicron and the virus itself, ”Tory said.

Tory said 154 COVID-19 vaccination clinics are planned for homeless people this month. Toronto public health mobile immunization clinics are run in shelters, 24-hour respite centers, and 24/7 women’s drop-in centers, he said. declared.

Tory added that the city had a “number of initiatives” underway to increase immunization among shelter residents. He noted that shelters are seen as an essential service.

Since May 7, 2021, the city has administered more than 12,400 doses in 871 shelters and reception centers. Inner City Health Associates, for its part, administered an additional 3,226 doses during this period.

According to the city’s Daily Occupancy and Overnight Service Use webpage, a total of 7,476 people used the city’s shelter system on Tuesday evening.

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