Toronto's warming centres need to open sooner

Extreme cold weather alerts come and go, and the city’s warming centres should be opened to reflect Canada’s spontaneous weather

Homeless person sleeping on the sidewalk in Toronto, on a cold winter day

Homeless person in sleeping bag on a Toronto sidewalk during a cold winter day
Photo: Grigory Kruglov CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

We are barely half way into winter and Mother Nature is already telling us that it’s going to be a long, miserable and bitter-cold season.

Winter technically didn’t start until Dec. 21, however, to some it has felt like winter for a lot longer with the frigid temperatures that the city has been experiencing.

Most of us are lucky enough to be able to cope with the bitter cold by dressing appropriately for the weather or doing something as simple as drinking hot chocolate, but if you’re one of over 5,000 homeless people living in Toronto, coping with the cold in these ways just isn’t possible.

The city issues an extreme cold weather alert only on days when the temperature is expected to reach -15 degrees or lower. Only then does the city open warming stations, typically open for 24 to 48 hours, and add additional beds in shelters.

However, some say this is simply not enough and that an extreme cold weather alert should be issued earlier to inform the city’s homeless population so the proper steps can be taken to give them temporary shelter.

But one has to wonder, how exactly does a homeless person become informed of an extreme cold weather alert with no access to television or internet?

Three homeless people have died recently due to the extreme cold temperatures in the city. One man died seeking shelter from the cold in a bus shelter wearing only a t-shirt and jeans, while another man died seeking shelter in a delivery truck.

How could they have known about the extreme cold weather alert? Did they know the locations of any shelters?

As mentioned, the city typically doesn’t issue an extreme cold weather alert until the temperature is expected to reach or exceeds -15 degrees, so If warming centres had been opened sooner would these three men still be alive?

The City of Toronto has already seen five extreme cold weather alerts, all of which were this month. As Canadian winters can get very cold, it is mind-boggling that the city waits until the temperature reaches a bone chilling -15 before even considering alerting the city or opening extra beds in shelters.

Cold weather alerts need to be issued as soon as winter arrives, and more shelter beds need to be opened immediately. They should also stay open for longer than 48 hours as the frigid temperatures come and go.

Gestures such as providing the homeless with socks, blankets, giving them a TTC token so they can get to a shelter or buying them a hot beverage on a cold day can make all the difference.

However, although the sad reality is that unless shelters and warming centres open sooner, homeless people will continue to die on our streets.

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Toronto's warming centres need to open sooner