Canada's Condominium Magazine
Although it’s an expensive solution, approved by the federal government, Toronto will open the Moss Park Armoury as an emergency shelter. Toronto’s Mayor John Tory praised the fast-acting and compassionate response to an urgent situation. Although Toronto is in a temporary warm lull, a second bitter cold stretch of weather is on its way this weekend, threatening a dangerous flash freeeze— after a quick melt Thursday.
The armoury was opened after advocates and city staff pointed out that Toronto’s biggest emergency centre — the Better Livintg Centre at Exhibition Place, was nearly at capacity. The armoury is meant to be a “bridge” to another provincial emergency respite centre soon to be opened.
Mayor John Tory had previously announced in late December the Better Living Centre’s opening as a 24/7 shelter, with mats or beds for up to 100 people. The spaces are part of a plan to add 400 shelter spaces throughout the city. Spaces will likely be set up in motel rooms, existing shelters, etc.
The addition followed Tory’s previous call for private and public housing providers to offer up spare units for use during the winter. “As we move into the winter, it’s clear we’re facing a very challenging situation,” said Tory. The extra spaces were estimated to cost $10 million, eventually resulting in 5,651 available beds by the end of the year.
Councilor Kristyn Wong-Tam expressed the importance of offering shelter to protect against the elements and provide a safe place to sleep. She stated, “Lives are definitely at risk. There is no doubt in my mind we will see deaths this winter, just as we have seen deaths in previous winters.”
City previously argued against opening the armoury
Though the spaces are certainly a step in the right direction, critics argue that the move, referred to as nothing more than a Band-Aid solution, offers only marginal help with a growing problem. Housing advocates are urging the mayor to open Fort Yok and Moss Park armouries to the homeless.
Despite the pleas and a subsequent petition which garnered approximately 20,000 signatures, Tory previously maintained his stance that the armouries are not a proper solution, as they lack washrooms, security systems, etc. He noted that many options were available, but the armouries were “way down the list.” He also added that he didn’t believe that “just because one group out there have consistently said that they think the armouries should be opened up is a reason why that should be the option we pick.”
However, Tory has stated that the shelter spaces are not the only action on his agenda. He also announced that the city would expedite the construction of permanent homeless shelters, which would see the project completed in 2018 versus a previously-estimated 2019.
The assurances were not enough for many, who argued that the problem of homelessness affects far too many people, and without proper shelter, many lives will be lost. Furthermore, the plan to move shelter spaces into other spaces is disappointing, as it negatively impacts frontline workers in shelters.
Rafi Aaron, a spokesperson for the Interfaith Coalition to Fight Homelessness, said, “It’s shoehorning 400 spaces into already overcrowded drop-in centres and shelters. The guests and clients who use these services are experiencing health hazards due to overcrowding, with not enough washrooms and no showers often.”
Despite the mayor’s initial insistence that the armouries were not a viable solution, the government accepted the request and announced on Friday, January 5th, that the Moss Park Armoury will open as a winter respite centre on Monday. Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, announced via Twitter, “The Government of Canada has accepted the request from Toronto and Ontario to temporarily make the Moss Park Armoury available as a 24/7 warming centre for 2 weeks. We’re all working together to keep people safe from the cold.”
The armoury at Moss Park had previously been used as a shelter during 1996 and January of 1999. The building is now used as military housing and training grounds. Those who seek shelter in the armoury will have access to washrooms and showers in the facility.