December 3, 2017 5:43 pm
Updated: December 5, 2017 10:54 am

Mayor John Tory to support opening 400 new shelter bed spaces in Toronto

WATCH ABOVE: Toronto Mayor John Tory said Sunday he would support creating 400 new beds in the city's shelter system, calling the need for shelter spaces an "urgent situation."

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Days after anti-homelessness advocates rallied at Toronto City Hall demanding the creation of more beds in the city’s shelter system, Mayor John Tory says he will support the creation of 400 spaces when council meets later this week.

“This is an urgent situation and we do have a proposed plan to address it. I do not want anyone who needs a shelter space to be unable to get one,” Tory said during a news conference Sunday afternoon.

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Tory said the city is scheduled to open 291 beds in 2018. Under the plan unveiled Sunday, which still needs to be approved by city council, it would add an extra 400 spaces through existing shelters and motel rooms “as soon as possible.” He also said staff are looking to open another winter drop-in facility in addition to the five centres.

READ MORE: Anti-poverty group holds march on city hall over inadequate shelter space for homeless

Tory said he will be asking staff during council to work on opening three new, planned shelter facilities in 2018 versus 2019.

The extra spaces are estimated to cost $10 million, which will be coming out of the city’s rainy day funds, Tory said.

LISTEN: Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam joins Tasha Kheiriddin on 640 Toronto

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The city expects to have 5,651 beds available by the end of the year, over 1,000 more than what it offered two years ago.

According to the most recent City of Toronto daily shelter census (Nov. 13), 5,386 out of 5,585 — or 96 per cent — shelter beds were occupied.

WATCH: Is enough being done to protect safety of Toronto’s homeless? Mark Carcasole reports. (Nov. 28)

Since 2015, City of Toronto data showed a noticeable increase in the average nightly people served by the city’s permanent shelter system. In October 2015, 4,090 people accessed shelters. Two years later, that number jumped to 5,270.

While at city hall Tuesday, advocates and residents placed cardboard tombstones outside the mayor’s office to remember those who were homeless and died while living on the streets.

“There have been 85 deaths since January of this year, or almost two a week. The overwhelming majority of these deaths were preventable,” Raffi Aaron, spokesperson for the Interfaith Coalition to Fight Homelessness, said during a news conference Tuesday.

“It’s up to you Mayor Tory — stop these homeless deaths now.”

READ MORE: Toronto expands 24-hour warming centres for homeless during winter months

Advocates said the shelter system has seen a 20-per-cent increase in usage over the last year and a 50-per-cent increase of families seeking shelter. They called on Tory to issue an emergency declaration in order to open up 400 more beds in the system.

During Sunday’s press conference, Tory said he met with city staff and lawyers and that they told him the emergency declaration “would not represent a proper use of that part of the law” since city council is meeting this week.

With files from Mark Carcasole and The Canadian Press

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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