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.
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.