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Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow says federal homelessness offer inadequate, calls for more funding

Click to play video: 'Olivia Chow fires back at feds amid shelter funding battle'
Olivia Chow fires back at feds amid shelter funding battle
WATCH: Toronto’s mayor exchanged blows with the federal immigration minister, calling his offer for funding not nearly enough to meet the needs of refugees the city is sheltering. Housing advocates, meanwhile, called the initial offer from Ottawa “insulting.” Matthew Bingley reports – Nov 23, 2023

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow is continuing to push responsibility for housing and homelessness in the city onto the federal government.

Chow doubled down on her calls for help from other levels of government after Global News reported the city had turned down a specific offer of help from the federal government.

Multiple sources said the city had been offered the use of Moss Park and Fort York armouries as shelter spaces, with Ottawa also offering $5 million to operate the Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place as a shelter for the rest of the winter.

The city, however, declined.

On Thursday, Chow continued her calls for federal long-term and short-term funding solutions.

“Tonight there will be probably 350 people in tents because they can’t find shelter,” Chow said at city hall. “It’s raining out. There will be people that will have no place to go. We are in the middle of (a) housing crisis.”

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Click to play video: 'Toronto turns down federal offer for expanded shelter space'
Toronto turns down federal offer for expanded shelter space

After the Global News story, Chow posted a letter on social media that she sent earlier in the week, requesting help from the federal government.

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The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Marc Miller, responded saying the province offered space at Exhibition Place and $5 million. He said the offer is still on the table.

In response to the offer Miller’s office sent to the city, Chow said it was unacceptable to say the armouries would be closed because it would push people back onto the street.

“If they’re closing the armouries just before the holidays, where are people going to go?” said Chow, adding that the Better Living Centre alone won’t be able to handle the amount of shelter space required for the winter.

“Tomorrow if we open up the Better Living Centre, mark my words, I will take one day, it will be full,” she said, “we need everything open.”

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On Wednesday, the mayor’s press secretary said in a statement that the city was always planning on opening the Better Living Centre, as part of the winter services plan. The city’s communications division, however, said it was not included in the components of the plan when the city launched it in October.

The next day, on Thursday, Chow clarified the Better Living Centre option was new, adding that it is always considered a last resort for the city, which won’t consider opening it until existing shelter capacity is exhausted.

“Originally this year we were hoping the federal government would step up, so it hadn’t been part of the plan formally,” she said.

When shelter operators indicated the Better Living Centre opening is necessary, Chow said one partner organization began hiring staff.

She said it won’t be ready to open until late December, and new funding will need to be approved.

The mayor said references to housing in the Fall Economic Statement were “promising” but there is a need for funding to come “a lot faster” to the city.

“I was hoping there would be more funds, more investment, the plan would be more ambitious, but at least there is a blueprint,” Chow said.

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