An extreme cold weather alert has been issued for Toronto again today, but many some councillors and advocates for the homeless are asking why the alert wasn’t raised last night when temperatures were well below freezing with severe winds.
The forecast for Saturday evening is - 10 C. Extreme weather alerts are issued when temperatures reach below - 15 C (without wind chill).
During an alert, the city opens up more shelter spaces — and volunteers head out to encourage the homeless to come in from the cold.
Alerts have been in effect for most of the week due to the return of the polar vortex, but as of Friday morning it was lifted, because temperatures sat at around - 12 C. However, with the severe wind warning the temperatures felt more like in the - 20s.
The lack of alert meant places like Metro Hall — typically functioning as a warming centre in such events — were closed to those in need.
The cold weather alert was issued again on Saturday morning, but that was far too late according to some city councillors.
Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam took to Twitter last night to express her anger at the situation.
Finally home from the freezing cold. Sick to my stomach that Metro Hall warming centre was closed due to "existing protocol. #homeless— Kristyn Wong-Tam 黃慧文 (@kristynwongtam) January 25, 2014
Wong-Tam says she called the general manager of shelter support to keep the warming centre at Metro Hall open Friday night, but was told the protocol wouldn't change unless council gave some new direction.
"We don't generally see winds up to 100 km/hour," said Wong-Tam. "I think that although there's an existing protocol, common sense would probably tell us to keep [the alert] out. The facilities are already up and running."
The fact that the alert was cancelled at - 12 C but was brought back Saturday when it was less cold, shows there are more than just rules and protocol involved in the decisions, according to Wong-Tam.
“Yesterday at - 12 C they cancelled it. This morning at - 7 C they've re-issued it. So to me at the very least, it's a little splotchy. It does tell me that there's a human calculation,” she said.
The weather alert rules are currently being reviewed, but while that happens hundreds of outreach workers are also taking it upon themselves to be proactive and help out.
Thousands of winter survival kits are being handed out Saturday by more than 200 volunteers as Project Winter Survival kicks off.
The project has been going on for 15 years.
“Every year the project gets larger and larger, sadly because the need is getting larger as well,” said street nurse and project advisor, Anne Marie Batten.
Among the items found in the kits are hats, gloves, a towel and facecloth. Many will also get sleeping bags.
“It’s been extremely cold this year,” North York outreach worker David smith said. “It’s really important for the guys out there on the street to get these supplies.”