Frigid weather means Better Living Centre shelter to hit capacity soon, says worker

The last of about a hundred beds were delivered today to the city's newest low-barrier shelter on the Exhibition grounds, and one worker says space is filling up fast.

City's newest facility meant to relieve pressure on overburdened shelter system, but could fill up in days

The city's winter shelters are pushing capacity, and the newest winter respite facility at the Better Living Centre on Exhibition grounds might soon join their ranks. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

A 24-hour winter respite shelter that opened last week on Exhibition grounds will soon hit capacity, one worker says.

As the last of the cots arrived Wednesday, the shelter is now doing exactly what the city intended: keeping people out of dangerously low temperatures. But support worker Kelly Foss says it could begin turning people away in as little as the next few days.

The city delivered cots swiftly in response to numbing cold and full shelters elsewhere, said Foss, noting that the new shelter is about half-full at the moment. Fifty people stayed overnight on Wednesday.

But the cold weather means the empty spaces will fill up soon, she said. "We're getting calls every few minutes."

People sleeping on the streets have no protection from the wicked weather that chilled Toronto on Tuesday, and getting them inside is the shelter's first priority. 

Kelly Foss, a primary support worker for Toronto shelter operator Fred Victor, says the Better Living Centre's goal is first and foremost to get people off the streets in dangerously cold weather. (CBC)

Foss said staff have employed various strategies to meet that goal, including welcoming people with pets, who may be routinely turned away from other shelters.

The low-barrier winter respite centre not only allows dogs and cats in, but feeds them, too.

"We have dog food, cat food, crates, blankets — whatever they need for their animals," Foss said, in addition to serving three hot meals a day.

Because of the Better Living Centre's peripheral location — clients with mobility issues would normally face a considerable trek from the usual bus stop — Foss told CBC Toronto that the Dufferin bus has rerouted in order to drop people off at the shelter's front door.

The shelter has been working to refer clients from Streets to Homes, the city's walk-in housing assessment centre. And to mitigate the chance of turning people away in the coming days, Foss said housing workers are on site during the day to get people into more permanent housing, keeping emergency spots open for walk-ins.

The city announced last week it would pull an additional $10 million from municipal reserves to make 400 emergency beds available by the end of the winter.