Toronto's shelters are 94% full and finding a space is stressful, user warns

It's –10 C outside, so James won't be going far from the shelter where he and his son have been sleeping in recent weeks, even if the city assures him there are other shelters available.

Shelters, respite centres busy as extreme cold grips city

Toronto remains under an extreme cold weather alert as of Tuesday. Some are warning homeless people don't have enough places to go, even though city officials say there is capacity in its shelter system. (David Donnelly/CBC)

It's –10 C outside, so James won't be going far from the shelter where he and his son have been sleeping in recent weeks.

James, who asked that his last name not be used, has been staying at a 24/7 winter respite centre at 21 Park Rd., near Yonge and Bloor, since late November. Last night, staff there told CBC Toronto that they unfortunately had turned people away from the 30-person facility.

It's a "very stressful," situation that James says he's experienced firsthand.

He says staff provide tokens and some recommendations on where to look for another space, but he wound up sleeping outside. "Massey Hall, down under the concrete," he said, finding only two words to describe the experience: "cold" and "sore."

There are now six 24/7 winter respite sites in downtown Toronto, but just like larger shelters many are already nearing or at capacity. (John Rieti/CBC)

The city is still under an extreme cold weather alert, with more frigid temperatures expected later this week.

City housing officials say the shelter system is now running at 94 per cent capacity as of 4 a.m. Tuesday, although there were some spaces available. Here's more on where people were staying:

  • Some 5,460 people used a shelter bed.
  • 333 of 379 spaces at winter respite facilities were in use.
  • 83 of the 110 spaces at the Better Living Centre were taken.

"During an emergency our goal is to try and get as many people to warm places as we possibly can," said Patricia Anderson, spokesperson for the city's Shelter, Support and Housing Administration.

However, activist Doug Johnson posted an audio recording of him calling the city's central intake line on Monday and being told by an operator that the Better Living Centre is full.

City officials blamed a similar incident on a miscommunication

On Twitter, many are reiterating calls to open Toronto's downtown armouries to the homeless, something Mayor John Tory and city council have so far opted against, citing concerns about how appropriate those facilities are for the task and how much it would cost (the federal government controls the buildings.)

Anderson says the armouries are not "off the table" and that the city is monitoring the situation around the clock, however she couldn't provide any further details on that. 

Outreach teams have also fanned out across the city in an effort to get homeless people into an indoor space.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.