City procures 20 rooms in 2 hotels to use as extra shelter space

A homeless man sits on a subway ventilation shaft in downtown Toronto to keep warm from the extreme cold temperature of near the minus 20 degrees Celsius mark, Toronto, Ont., January 7, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Dominic Chan

TORONTO – The city will procure up to 20 hotel rooms to house homeless people at a cost of as much as $50,000 a month if the beds are used. The city’s Housing Services said this will only occur when shelters go beyond 90 per cent capacity.

The beds will be in two hotels – one on either side of Yonge Street – and will only be used when there is a “demand,” Mayor John Tory said Thursday.

“They’re more collected in a couple of places just because of the availability of those rooms,” Tory told reporters Thursday afternoon. “It’s not every place that could take, or would take on this willingness to have this extra space available. And it’s going to be used on a kind of supply and demand basis. If the need is there then these rooms are available to us.”

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Tory sought the beds after four people died either on the street or in a shelter over the past week. The latest to die was a man sleeping in a makeshift hut in a Scarborough industrial area when it caught fire overnight.

The extra beds are badly needed as the city’s shelters frequently operate at above 90 per cent capacity. Roughly 93 per cent of the available shelter beds in the city of Toronto were used Wednesday night. However that number is weighed down by the 68 per cent occupancy rate of family beds being used in motels. All the other types of shelters for men, women, co-ed, youth and families ranged from 94 to 99 per cent occupancy.

Patricia Mueller, the executive director of Homes First, a shelter service in Toronto, told Global News Thursday that its beds are almost always  full.

“The Scarborough shelter that we operate is funded for 60 beds. We rarely go less than 59 people there,” she said. “Many of the shelters, and our agency included, are looking at where can we expand a few beds here and a few beds there to expand our shelters.”

With files from Dave Trafford

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