New Respite, who dis?: Remembering last winter's blunder to shelter Toronto's homeless from the cold

January 15, 2019

 

During the winter season of 2017/2018, the City of Toronto saw temperatures dip to dangerous levels for many extended cold snaps. During this time the City of Toronto was under incredible scrutiny to provide the homeless population with a safe place to escape these lethal temperatures. 

 

The City experienced pressure to have the Moss Park armoury reconfigured as a temporary shelter to be utilized by service users the Friday before Toronto would experience one of these cold snaps.  During this time temperatures as low as -25 Celsius, which felt many times like -37 Celsius with the wind chill. Toronto’s Mayor John Tory failed to act in a timely fashion leading to the opening of this temporary shelter being delayed until the following Monday. Thankfully, this inaction on behalf of the Mayor’s office led to no fatalities for the homeless people left out in the cold during this deep freeze.  

 

The mayors office did in fact add an additional 100 beds to the respite centre located on the CNE grounds. However this would not prevent the members of the Moss Park homeless community from having to pick up and move to the other side of the city. This travel to the CNE grounds would separate these individuals from their communities and alienate them from the community services that lay within. Members of this community and Nurse Cathy Crowe viewed the Moss Park Armoury as the best possible solution when dealing with the overloaded shelter system during the 2017/2018 winter season.  

 

 

Following this, The City of Toronto has made adjustments to their 2018/2019 winter respite plan, with hopes of providing enough beds before the province enters another seasonal deep freeze. These changes were put into place to ensure that the growing homeless population within the city are able to access shelter during these difficult peak winter seasons. 

 

 

Over the past 5 years, the city has been consistently adding permanent beds to the shelter system, however many frontline workers feel as though the support is still not enough. Toronto currently has 7000 permanent beds with the goal of adding 102 by the end of 2018. This signifies the city’s commitment towards fulfilling their goal of adding 1000 permanent shelter beds by the year 2020. Along with this commitment, the city as purchased 3 prefabricated structures, the first of which was operational as of December 2018. Cathy Crowe, who is a veteran street nurse, told The Globe and Mail that she was pleased about the prefabricated structures, which can be assembled, taken apart and moved, saying she and her colleagues called for that about 20 years ago, she also said. “I’m disappointed that only one will be up in December. 

 

This lack of available beds may once again lead to the need for the city to provide temporary shelters like the one created at the Moss Park armoury last winter. As the city’s population continues to grow, issues such as homelessness will without a doubt grow as well. It is up to our municipal, provincial and federal politicians to provide these communities with the support needed, by providing proper infrastructure and funding for the organizations that are on the ground day after day.

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