January 11, 2019 5:51 pm
Updated: January 11, 2019 7:54 pm

‘It’s a horrible life out there’: How frigid temperatures are impacting Toronto’s homeless

WATCH ABOVE: Wayne is staying at one of Toronto's respite centres. He's been homeless on and off for about 25 years and as Erica Vella reports, the cold weather makes life difficult and finding a warm, safe place can be a challenge. Erica Vella reports.


During some of the coldest days in the winter, Wayne often debates where he will spend his time trying to keep warm.

“Do I sleep in an underground parking lot, a stairway in a building?” he told Global News.

The 40-year-old said he’s been homeless on and off for the past 25 years and each year he battles the cold weather in the city.

“Your feet get frozen and you stand there in fear on if you’re going to die of frostbite and succumb to the cold. It’s scary,” Wayne said.

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READ MORE: Extreme cold weather alert issued for Toronto

Toronto’s medical officer of health issued an extreme cold weather alert as the temperature reached -18 C with the windchill on Thursday. Wayne said he spent the night at Metro Hall which was opened as a warming centre to provide extra shelter. But the cold weather alert was lifted on Friday and Metro Hall was closed.

“It is activated upon a cold weather alert,” said Gord Tanner, director of Homeless Initiatives and Prevention Services with the City of Toronto.

“We still have spaces within the system and feel quite confident that we will have space tonight.”

Wayne said he plans on staying at one of the city’s nine respite centres, but they are often loud and crowded with people, and because of that, he said he prefers to stay at Metro Hall.

“It makes me feel like a temperature gauge is more important than a human life,” he said, adding that sometimes sleeping in the respite centres can be distressing.

“Some of the ruder people won’t allow you to sleep. They will argue with you. It’s a lot of things.”

Greg Cook, outreach worker with Sanctuary Toronto, said it can be difficult to find shelter beds for those who need it.

READ MORE: Toronto to open 3 new shelters to tackle winter demand

“You’re trying to make sure, ‘does [this person] have a place to go, how do we get [this person] a shelter bed’ and then you have people that are elderly and it’s hard for them to walk and they can’t get to the new sprung structure,” he said.

“[The structures] are great because they are keeping people warm, but some people can’t get down to Lakeshore.”

In November, the city announced three new respite centres would be built to help those in the winter.

The first site, at 1155 King St. W., is currently open, but two others that were due to open Jan. 31 have been delayed until March.

FULL INTERVIEW: ‘It’s scary’: Toronto man staying at respite centre describes life in the cold

“It’s been construction delays and given the cold lately there has been some technical issues,” Tanner said.

“Because of that delay we have opened up one respite at the Queen Elizabeth center.”

Wayne said while he would like to find affordable housing, it has gotten increasingly difficult with long wait-lists.

“It’s a three year wait-list, so that means you’re going to live like this for three years and most people give up,” he said.

He plans on staying at the respite centre for two nights before moving on.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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