The City of Toronto has opened two new 24-hour warming centres in downtown Toronto before temperatures drop significantly overnight.
Officials announced during a news conference Thursday afternoon that warming centres at Metro Hall (55 John St.) and Regent Park Community Centre (402 Shuter St.) would be open as of 7 p.m. and will operate until the extreme cold weather warnings are ended.
“I want to take this opportunity to urge anyone who is out on the street to seek shelter from this cold and I urge anyone who sees someone on the street to help us help them,” Mayor John Tory said, noting people can call 311.
“Anyone who needs shelter tonight in the City of Toronto will find that shelter, or we will find it for them.”
The Regent Park Community Centre will have cots and access to meals, showers, hygiene kits and referrals to resources while Metro Hall will offer a basic drop-in facility with seating. There are also six other winter respite centres, including the newly-opened facility at the Better Living Centre.
Environment Canada issued an extreme cold warning for Toronto. The forecast for Thursday night calls for a low of -23 C, but it will feel like -36 with the wind chill. On Friday, the forecast daytime high will only be -17 C with an overnight low of -24 C. Temperatures are expected to return to a seasonal normal on Sunday.
Meanwhile, officials said extra street outreach teams would be on patrol Thursday night. There will also be increased staffing at the Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre at 129 Peter Street to assist people in finding, and getting to, shelters overnight.
Staff said paramedics will also be on patrol in downtown Toronto looking for those who might require assistance.
Tory said Thursday that discussions about opening the Moss Park Armoury as a 24-hour winter respite centre until April 15 are continuing. City staff said an assistance request was relayed to the federal government by the province.
On Wednesday, he said the city is revisiting a Toronto city council vote that rejected a motion to open the Moss Park Armoury to the homeless last month, weeks before an extended cold snap gripped the city and dramatically increased demand for shelter spaces.
Much rests on whether the facility can be available 24 hours a day, the mayor said Wednesday, noting that when the armoury had sheltered the homeless in past years, it could only be used overnight as the facility was used by the Canadian Forces during the day.
Federal Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale said options are being evaluated to find the most effective solution as quickly as possible following a request from Tory to open the armoury to shelter the homeless.
The city’s ability to address the needs of the homeless is now the subject of two inquiries following confusion over the availability of spaces during the prolonged cold snap.
Advocates have said in recent days that they tried to find spots for homeless people in some of the city’s shelters only to be told that they were completely full. The city has said there are still beds available for the homeless, blaming miscommunication for the confusion.
The latest data from the city indicates Toronto’s shelters operated at between 94 and 95 per cent capacity on the weekend with 5,460 people staying in the shelter system on Monday. Another 445 people used winter respite centres.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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