100 new shelter spaces to open up at Better Living Centre

Mayor Tory announced Thursday that the Better Living Centre on the CNE grounds would be the site of 100 new shelter beds this winter.

20 new beds to become available immediately, with an additional 80 opening up mid-January

Mayor John Tory has plans to open hundreds of new shelter spaces this winter. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

As of Thursday, the Better Living Centre down at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds will be the site of 20 new shelter beds, with an additional 80 opening up mid-January.

Toronto Mayor John Tory made the announcement at city hall on Thursday morning.

This follows an announcement by Tory earlier this month about plans to add 400 shelter spaces in the city by opening up motel rooms and freeing up space in existing shelters.

Toronto's Mayor John Tory announces on Thursday that 100 new shelter spaces will open up at the Better Living Centre. (CBC)

"When it comes to our shelter system, we must do the right thing, in the right way," Tory said.

The added spaces will cost the city $10.6 million, which will be coming out of the city's reserve funds.

According to Tory, of the proposed 400 new spaces, 84 beds are already in use and by mid-January 234 spaces will have been made available. The remaining 166 beds will come a few weeks later.

Critics push Tory to open armouries

Tory's initial plan was criticized by housing advocates for overburdening an already full system.

Rafi Aaron, a spokesperson for the Interfaith Coalition to Fight Homelessness, has called the idea a "great disappointment" that will "shoehorn" the new spaces where there's no room.

A group of advocates also want the mayor to seek the federal government's help to open the Fort York and Moss Park armouries to this city's homeless. 

Some 20,000 people have signed a petition supporting that plan, which frontline workers, like Cathy Crowe, say would be cheaper and faster than the mayor's plans to open up motel rooms and create additional spaces at existing shelters and drop-ins.

But Tory says that, based on expert advice, the armouries are "well down the list" because they lack proper washrooms and security systems.

"For some people these kinds of concrete solutions ... will not be seen to be enough, in fact, I'm not sure it would ever be seen to be enough," said Tory. "I would just say to people that we are not standing still, even in the light of this progress."

Coun. Mike Layton, who represents Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina, said although he's supportive of using the Better Living Centre, he's worried that the 100 beds won't be enough.

Layton also revealed that he had received a press release explaining that the centre will be closed between Feb. 25 and Mar. 6 for an event. 

"We're talking the end of February here — the coldest time of year," he told CBC Toronto. "If it's the case, we're going to need to make another arrangement and that might look like the [Fort York] armoury just around the corner. So why we wouldn't just start right there ... I don't know what the logic is behind that."

A spokesperson for the mayor's office said city staff is "working through" the scheduling conflict, and have assured the shelter will not be put on hold.