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Mayor John Tory announces 400 new shelter spaces

Mayor John Tory announces 400 new shelter spaces
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Mayor John Tory proposed adding 400 new spaces to Toronto’s shelter system “as soon as possible” on Sunday afternoon, but it was unclear how they would be funded.

“This urgent plan for shelters will work to add beds in existing shelters,” he said on Sunday at Toronto city hall. “We’re already underway talking to each of the shelters that exists in the city of Toronto, asking them to add capacity to wherever they possibly can.”

In an answer to reporters’ questions, Tory said adding 400 spaces would cost an estimated $10 million and suggested it could come from the city’s reserve funds. He said those spaces could be available “in the coming weeks” and some in “the coming days.”

Tory was not specific about which funds the money would be drawn from or where, beyond hotels, those experiencing homelessness could be temporarily housed.

The city has been trying to free up and look for spaces to house more of Toronto’s homeless population. Currently, there are 1,288 more beds than there were on Nov. 1, 2016, according to city data. This includes the use of motel beds.

And last month, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam introduced a successful motion that urged opening up more beds and declaring an emergency. Wong-Tam suggested using the Fort York and Moss Park armouries as shelter spaces.

But on Sunday, Tory said he decided against declaring an emergency or using the armouries.

“The staff have advised me that the declaration of such an emergency would not represent a proper use of that part of the law,” he said.

Part of the plan to be discussed this week at council, which starts on Dec. 5, will be using existing infrastructure like motel rooms to house people. Earlier this year, council approved extending contracts for beds and food services at several hotels for a total $20.8 million to manage refugees arriving in Toronto as the shelter system sees an increasing demand from newcomers, including from families for whom traditional shelter space is limited.

“We are looking for additional space to locate another winter drop-in,” Tory said, adding that city staff will work with community and city leaders to locate a suitable place.

Drop-in centres provide mats to sleep or rest on, not beds.

Tory’s plan builds on the 291 shelter beds to be introduced next year by the city. Tory said during the announcement that his department will be asking staff to open three new shelters in 2018, rather than 2019.

About 35,000 Canadians are homeless every night, according to the Canadian Observatory on Homelessnes, and about 235,000 over the year.

Toronto’s emergency shelter system can accommodate about 5,660 people, with an additional 80 spots added over each weekend. On Thursday, it was at 96 per cent capacity, with women s shelters at 98 per cent and youth shelters at 97 per cent capacity.

That same night 92 people also used the Out of the Cold Program, a volunteer-led initiative held at faith-based centres across the city, according to city statistics. 

Last February , during the 2017 budget debate at council Tory voted against a proposal to boost the budget and prevent the elimination of 10 front-line shelter staff positions. At the time shelters were exceeding capacity targets.
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