Toronto is revisiting a shelved proposal to open a federal armoury to cope with unprecedented demand on its homeless shelter system, the city’s mayor said Wednesday.
John Tory and members of council had 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.
As temperatures dropped to around -20 C for several nights and thousands of residents signed a petition calling on Tory to revisit the armoury proposal, the mayor initially said other city-owned properties presented better options.
Tory reversed course on Jan. 3, saying the city was in talks with Ottawa to turn the Moss Park Armoury into a seventh winter respite site, a temporary shelter opened up during the cold months.
He said he personally planned to reinforce the request, which he said would add about 100 beds to the overtaxed system that has seen demand surge by 30 percent over the same time last year.
“Demand continues to increase and the system is undoubtedly under strain,” Tory told reporters. “Even with increased capacity, this leaves us too close to the edge in these unprecedented weather and social conditions.”
Tory said the frigid weather was not the only cause of the spike in demand on the shelter system. He said an influx of refugees in the past two years, coupled with what he described as a mental health crisis in the city, are also critical factors.
Toronto has already added 30 new beds at one major downtown centre, with 10 more on the way in the next few weeks, Tory said.
The city is following through on its commitment to increase shelter capacity by 400 beds in the coming months and to build new facilities in 2018, the mayor added. These measures will go ahead regardless of whether the Moss Park Armoury becomes a respite centre, he said, adding that if approved it would offer 24-hour support until mid-April.
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.
From The Canadian Press