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Politics & Policy Nov 10, 2019 6:09 AM EST

Toronto homeless shelters “98-99%” full as winter approaches

Toronto’s shelters continue to be at peak occupancy, despite new beds, risking lives during winter.

Toronto homeless shelters “98-99%” full as winter approaches
Ali Taghva Montreal, QC

This article was published more than 1 year ago, information might not be up to date.

Toronto’s shelters continue to be at peak occupancy, despite new beds, risking lives during winter.

According to the City of Toronto’s daily tracker, the city’s homeless shelters remain at 99 or even 100% capacity for certain demographics.

City of Toronto

Space for single men maintained an occupancy rate of 98%, while women hit 99%. Family shelters, excluding motels, reached capacity, with 100% occupancy.

While this data is worrying, a video posted to Twitter, which has since gone viral, shows the problem with clarity.

Simply said, on extreme nights, with such high occupancy rates, those in need could see themselves turned away.

While the occupancy situation remains problematic and potentially excludes many, it also creates a scenario of scarcity where resources given to those who make it in are also reduced.

In October, the City found itself in hot water, when a Toronto street nurse called the city “second class” after releasing undercover footage filmed showing the state of shelters.

The footage reveals rows of cots on the ground, tightly packed and cordoned off by tape, in various drop-in respite centres in the city.

“This is a second-tier, second-class shelter system, and we are a second-class city to allow it to happen,” the nurse said.

While the problem continues, the city will be adding almost 500 new spaces, with 200 beds to be located in North York for refugees.

“Refugees are quite overrepresented in the shelter population, and so that program at Yonge and Finch will be very much tailored to the unique needs of single refugee claimants.”

Refugees have come to represent roughly 36% of the shelter system since 2016, with both the Roxham border crossers and the Syrian population requiring assistance, likely due to high housing costs in urban areas.

Gord Tanner, director of homelessness initiatives and prevention services, made the expansion announcement, while also pointing out that it’s the sixth winter in a row the city has scaled up services.

“Despite continually adding new capacity to the shelter system the occupancy rate remains really unchanged, around 98-99 percent,” he said

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