Relentless cold has put Toronto shelter capacity in crisis, advocates say

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Toronto shelter capacity in crisis amid cold, advocates say
Advocates and experts are sounding the alarm on what the recent frigid temperatures have meant for Toronto's homeless population. They say there's a dire shortage of shelter beds and that officials aren't doing enough. Albert Delitala reports – Jan 30, 2022

An increasing number of people in Toronto‘s homeless population are ending up in hospital with cold-related injuries, as the city’s shelter system struggles to keep up with demand, experts and advocates say.

“We had a client who was dealing with frostbite recently,” said Dr. Naheed Dosani, health equity lead at Kensington Health.

He said he sees many patients who live on the streets and has noticed the troubling trend in recent weeks, with colleagues reporting similar issues.

“People are coming in with hypothermia and frostbite,” he said. “In some cases, some of the people I care for have actually had to just go to the hospital to seek warmth.”

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The cold weather and the pandemic have taken an already bad situation to crisis levels, according to advocates for the homeless, with some, calling for the city to ask the federal government to help.

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“What I’m seeing is that the city cannot handle a predictable emergency, which is, the shelters are full. Extreme weather is here and there’s nowhere for people to go and people will die, people will be injured,” said Cathy Crowe, a street nurse and member of the advocacy group Shelter and Housing Justice Network (SHJN).

In an email response to Global News, the City of Toronto stated it sheltered 7,721 people on Saturday night and made 49 new beds available, of which 30 were used.

Crowe insisted federal support is needed to help catch up with the demand.

“They need to ask for federal money to help them out,” she said. “They need to ask the Red Cross to step in, or they need to ask Doctor’s Without Borders.”

Greg Cook, an outreach worker at Sanctuary Toronto who is also involved with SHJN, said he agreed with Crowe. Hundreds of new beds are needed now or it will cost lives, he said.

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“COVID’s a big concern, obviously but the cold is going to kill you faster.”

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