Metro Morning

'It hasn't even gotten that cold yet': Major demand for Scarborough's first winter homeless shelter

Scarborough opened its first ever winter homeless shelter a month ago. It's been full almost every night since.

The new facility has been full almost every night since opening, organizers say

Shelter organizer Ginelle Skerritt (left) met Mazena Mohammed (right) when she moved into the shelter a month ago. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

With a stretch of cold, snowy weather bearing down on Toronto, Scarborough's recently opened winter homeless shelter may have little room to accommodate any more guests.

A month after The Scarborough Winter Respite Centre became the region's first ever winter shelter, organizers say the facility has been full nearly every night.

"It hasn't even gotten that cold yet," said Ginelle Skerritt, Executive Director of the Warden Woods Community Centre on Metro Morning. "It is surprising that we are at capacity most nights now."

Mazena Mohammed became one of the centre's first guests when it opened in November, and she's been staying there ever since.

Unable to pay rent, she was forced out of her home earlier this year and spent a month bouncing between four different shelters in downtown Toronto.

"I had nowhere to go," she said.

While those facilities may have offered a roof and meals, she also found herself confronted with the mental health and substance abuse issues of other guests.

"It's very different," she said the new Scarborough facility. "The people are very nice, they're not used to the rowdiness of downtown."

Scarborough's hidden homeless

There are other key distinctions between homelessness issues in downtown Toronto and the inner suburbs, experts say.

Skerritt said people struggling through homelessness in Scarborough may not end up on street corners as frequently as those downtown.

Her shelter's clients are more likely to move between various precarious situations, like temporary stays with family or friends, she said.

"There is a homelessness problem but it's not in your face like it would be in the downtown area, so I think it's easier to ignore," Skerritt explained.

While the packed shelter has demonstrated a high demand for temporary services in Scarborough, Skerritt added that the new facility is merely a short-term fix; one that does not address root causes of homelessness such as housing and mental illness treatment.

"This is a drop-in, it is a temporary situation," she said. "It doesn't begin to address the situation."