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Allan Turton

Last week, Toronto saw temperatures of -21 C, with wind chill making it feel like -40 C, making for one of the coldest winters Toronto has experienced in years, and raising many concerns for the individuals facing homelessness in the city.


On the night of January 3, 4000 people used shelters across the city. Salvation Army on College St. reached its maximum capacity of 124 beds, and the homeless shelter on Jarvis also reached its maximum capacity of 118 spots.


When shelters fill all their beds, many men and women are left outdoors a deep freeze.


Environment Canada sent out wind chill warnings, declaring that one can get frostbite if not appropriately covered up. Environment Canada recommends layering clothing; however, this recommendation isn’t the most helpful for the homeless.


Various programs to help the homeless such as Out of the Cold and United Way work to demand to shelters to accept more individuals, but the resources are just not available.


The situation for the homeless is becoming worse, as Toronto spending for shelters was reduced 2.9 percent in 2013 due to the city budget. One hundred shelter beds are being cut and food and support services are being reduced.


This funding cut was approved by mayor Rob Ford who said, “We don’t need more spaces. We have over a hundred empty beds a night. We have to be efficient.”


However, Ford’s comments are not entirely true, as shelters are experiencing overcrowding, which, in a deep freeze--such as the “polar vortex” of early January--is extremely dangerous.

 

The Toronto Homeless Memorial Network posts news about the ongoing situations on the homeless in the city, stating, “Since 1985, there have been 700 homeless deaths on the streets of Toronto and 43 of those deaths occurred in [2013] alone, but that may be a conservative estimate.”

 

In periods of extreme weather, volunteers at shelters work to offer more beds, extend hours, and provide more food and blankets. Unfortunately in this will only help in the short term.


Toronto’s planning document, 10 Year Plan Housing Initiative, writes, “the best way to end homelessness is to provide permanent housing.”

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