Toronto city councillors are set to consider keeping warming centres open 24/7 for the rest of the winter, amid growing calls to support people experiencing homelessness.
City council is scheduled to meet on Tuesday after The Board of Health issued a recommendation last month stating that the city should declare a public health crisis based on inadequate support for unhoused individuals during the winter season.
The Board of Health believes the city’s shelter system is unable to support residents in need, grounded in systemic failures present in all levels of government to provide safe, walk-in, indoor spaces for those without housing.
As a result, the board is asking city council to consider opening warming centres throughout the remaining winter months until Apr. 15.
Last week, Toronto experienced several extreme weather warnings that ultimately pose greater threats to those without adequate shelter.
The city currently opens warming centres at 7 p.m. until noon the next day when an extreme cold alert is issued, and when temperatures are -15 C or -20 C. Community workers and medical professionals suggest these contingent regulations may lead to preventable injuries caused in cold conditions.
“We know from our research and clinical experience that there are public health measures that can reduce preventable health issues and deaths for people living unhoused in Toronto,” Unity Health Toronto, a hospital network, said in a statement last month. “Our research shows that hypothermic events happen well above -15 degrees Celsius, and health can worsen in harsh conditions such as cold rain and snow.”
Many unhoused individuals increasingly seek refuge in unstable places like public libraries, 24-hour restaurants and the transit system in order to stay warm, according to the Toronto hospital network.
Unity Health Toronto says more housing shelters may result in fewer hospital visits due to cold-related injuries, overdoses, and those entering emergency departments for shelter.
City council is set to meet tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.