Feb 05, 2023

By Jeremy Logan

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Amid rising calls for the city of Toronto to declare homelessness a public health emergency, council members are expected to explore keeping warming centres open round-the-clock for the remainder of the winter.

Advocates claim that the local policy to open warming centres after temperatures reach minus 15 is cruel, not supported by evidence, and may be leading to injuries from the cold that could have been avoided.

According to Councillor Alejandra Bravo, who worked to present a motion urging the city to create indoor warming centres open 24-7 through April 15, the absence of shelter from the cold forces people facing homelessness to seek safety in unsuitable public areas.

On Friday, when an extreme cold warning was in effect, 99% of warming centre spaces were taken, leaving only one open space in the entire city, according to the city’s daily data on shelter occupancy.

City spokesperson Alex Burke says Toronto’s four warming centres don’t turn anyone away and staff will facilitate referrals to other shelter spaces if a location is at capacity.

On Friday the Ontario Human Rights Commission expressed concern about what it called the “significant lack of cold weather services in Toronto and across the province,” and called on all levels of government to act.

The hospital network Unity Health Toronto reported last month that this winter has seen a spike in injuries caused by the cold, including hypothermia and frostbite, as well as from strategies used to survive outside like sleeping in unsafe areas.

The discussion on extending warming centre hours is slated to get underway on Tuesday.

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