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TTC sees rise in number of people seeking shelter in stations during cold snaps

Click to play video: 'Frigid Toronto temperatures continue to pile pressure on warming centres'
Frigid Toronto temperatures continue to pile pressure on warming centres
RELATED: The City of Toronto is opening more warming spaces as freezing temperatures persist. But with space still limited, many are struggling in the cold. Ahmar Khan reports – Jan 18, 2024

The number of people seeking shelter in transit stations in Toronto increases when the weather turns cold, the Toronto Transit Commission said as the city continues to face capacity challenges at its shelters and warming centres.

Spokesman Stuart Green said TTC staff observe between 30 and 60 unhoused people per day in transit stations during cold weather months, compared to eight to 10 the rest of the year.

He said these figures are estimates based on current and historical data, adding that the numbers are “hard to nail down as people come and go, and we would have to make assumptions about people’s shelter status.”

TTC staff “work with the City to help identify people known to be in need of shelter,” he said.

The Montreal Transit Corp. said its staff show “more tolerance” towards homeless and vulnerable people during periods of extreme cold, allowing them to remain in stations until they close.

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As stations are closing, special constables help connect vulnerable people with shelter resources available at night, a Montreal Transit spokesperson said in an email, adding that 7,000 such escorts were provided last winter.

In Toronto, city staff have said they plan to open one new site to help keep vulnerable residents warm when temperatures drop to – 15 C, after its four warming centres were at capacity over the weekend.

Additional sites could be opened to meet demands, the city has said.

Diana Chan McNally, social worker and harm reduction advocate, urged Toronto to create more accessible and open bed spaces, and limit the bureaucracy that vulnerable people can face before accessing shelter services.

“(If) you still have to call central intake in order to access the bed, it’s too high barrier. It means that a lot of people who could use that space probably won’t be able to access it or even know that it exists,” she said.

“Instead, they will be sheltering, like we’ve seen, on the TTC and libraries and coffee shops, wherever that they can find, that’s indoors, that’s open and where they won’t get kicked out.”

City councillors voted last year to lower the threshold for when warming centres will be opened to -5 C or when freezing rain, snow or storm warnings are issued. Warming centres opened last winter only when temperatures dipped to -15 C or -20 C in Toronto.

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