Activists demand more shelter beds after man dies on street

WATCH: Activists are questioning why the city didn’t raise an extreme cold weather alert Monday night, when one man was found dead in a t-shirt and jeans. Marianne Dimain reports.

TORONTO – Homelessness activists descended on the mayor’s office Tuesday demanding more shelter beds after a man wearing jeans and a t-shirt died after being found unconscious near Yonge-Dundas square.

Police say they knew the man, who was wearing a hospital bracelet.

Mayor John Tory told reporters Tuesday that staff are reviewing the city’s shelter system but admitted changes can’t fix the overburdened system overnight.

“The death of anyone on the streets of Toronto, any single person, ever, is one too many. And so I think we sort of have to redouble our efforts,” he said. “There’s a review going on right now, which produce some results I gather in March, with respect to the general question of our shelter system.”

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The city has 1,749 shelter beds for men; 94 per cent of its beds for men were in use Monday, according to the city’s website.

WATCH: Mayor Tory responds to why the city failed to call an extreme cold weather alert Monday night.

The city has several warming centres – facilities such as Joseph J. Piccininni Community Centre – it are open 24 hours a day during extreme cold alerts. But there was no such alert in place Monday night, when temperatures dipped below -15 degrees Celsius.

Tory directed Toronto Public Health to open the warming centres Tuesday afternoon, anyway. (Conveniently, Environment Canada issued a cold alert for the region shortly afterward, projecting wind chills as cold as -30 degrees Celsius.)

But one homeless person, who did not want to give his name, told Global News those shelters are commonly filled with drug activity and crime.

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“I don’t like going to the hostels because there’s too much drug activity, bed bugs and thieves. They always steal my stuff so I don’t like going there anymore,” he said.

His nephew, who identified himself as Mike, said his uncle doesn’t want to sleep on the streets and is looking for affordable housing. His uncle has been on the streets since September when he was released from prison and sleeps above grates each night to try and keep warm.

“I don’t choose to be out here at all. I wish I had some affordable housing but the lineups are so long and everything,” he said.

Brian Dubourdiu, an activist with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, told Global News Tuesday that the city’s shelters are often full despite the city’s data suggesting a small number of beds available.

He suggested the data is skewed because people try and leave as often as possible.

“Every year we’ve had this problem. We’ve been very short on hostel beds,” he said. “Everyone wants to get out of there, because it’s overcrowded. They’re basically dangerous dives sometimes. You want to get out for a few days.”

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