Mayor John Tory says the city is working to open temporary beds by the end of this week, if not sooner, to provide added shelter for the homeless in the frigid weather.
Mr. Tory, who last week visited city shelters that are operating at near capacity, said staff are working to find extra spaces in existing programs and facilities, but could not say how many spots would be opened or the cost.
Staff have been asked to act "ASAP and I hope that means days, literally days," Mr. Tory said in an interview on Tuesday. "It's a deep concern of mine."
Efforts to step up Toronto's response to sheltering the homeless came as the city confirmed a third death among the street population – this one at a city-run facility. A 61-year old man died in his sleep last week on the morning of Jan. 8 at the Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre on Peter Street, a spokeswoman for the city said in an e-mail on Tuesday.
Emergency services and the coroner were called in, and a detailed investigation is taking place, said the e-mail from Patricia Anderson of Toronto's Shelter, Support and Housing division.
Also last week, a homeless man was found dead inside a delivery truck and a man died after he was discovered in a T-shirt and jeans in a transit shelter at Yonge and Dundas streets.
Figures provided by the city show Toronto shelters had an occupancy rate of 93 per cent on Monday night, but some categories had little room to spare. Co-ed shelters were at 98 per cent occupancy with just eight vacancies, and spaces for men, women, youth and family ranged from 94 to 96 per cent occupied. Only spaces for families in motels were below the city's 90-per-cent target, at 69 per cent.
Councillor James Pasternak, chair of the city's community development committee, said he is working with staff to find money in reserve funds to open additional temporary beds, but described the demand for more beds as "a good rallying cry," rather than long-term answer.
"This cry of beds, beds, beds is a dated strategy that is not really solving problems that our homeless face," he said. "We can open up thousands of beds, but unless we are working with the homeless in areas such as mental health and addiction, we will not be able to solve the problem."
Councillor Joe Mihevc wants to fast-track two planned drop-in centres for women as well as the extra shelter beds, saying the measures cannot wait for budget approval in March. "Where there is a will, there is a way," he said.
But both Mr. Pasternak and Mr. Tory said those facilities, as well as a shelter for LGBTQ youth, require budget approval. "Do you just want to throw open some kind of warehouse in the middle of nowhere? What good will that do?" Mr. Pasternak asked.
Mr. Tory said the new projects involve agreements with agencies and leases, commitments that cannot be made without funding approval through the budget.
Ms. Anderson, the city spokeswoman, said staff have issued a request for proposals for the women's drop-in centres following council's direction last year, but any agreement with an agency is contingent on the approval of available funds in the 2015 operating budget.