Dozens of anti-poverty activists who had turned Metro Hall into a makeshift shelter were escorted out of the building peacefully by police Thursday night.

The protesters had been demonstrating inside the downtown building as part of their fight to make more shelter beds available to the city’s homeless.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Rob Ford called the occupation a “cheap publicity stunt” and accused organizers of “creating a false sense of crisis” over the number of shelter spaces available to the homeless in Toronto.

The protest was organized by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

Ford denied OCAP’s accusations that budget cuts have caused a shelter bed shortage and that people are being turned away from homeless shelters on a regular basis.

Ford said there are about 100 empty beds every night, and an additional 170 beds are added when the city declares an extreme cold weather alert.

The mayor said beds were still available at 4 a.m. during a recent cold weather alert.

“How many empty beds should we have?” Ford said as he read a statement to reporters at city hall earlier on Thursday.

The mayor said the city does everything it can to get people into shelters, but it cannot force people off the streets if they don’t want to go inside.

OCAP spokesman Gaetan Heroux refuted Ford’s claims, saying he handed out leaflets to homeless people Thursday morning and was told the shelters were full to capacity overnight.

Heroux told CP24 the protesters plan to occupy Metro Hall as long as they can as they call on the city to add shelter beds to a system that operates at about 96 per cent capacity.

“We want a response from the city and the bureaucrats … so unless we hear some kind of direction or commitment our intention is to stay,” Heroux told CP24.

Meanwhile, a note posted on Metro Hall’s main entrance makes it clear that nobody is allowed to stay inside the downtown building past 9:30 p.m.

The note also says that protesters are not allowed to bring sleeping bags, camping gear or loudspeakers inside.

“If you fail to comply with any of these conditions you may be asked to leave the building,” the note reads.

As the activists entered the building Thursday morning, a minor scuffle broke out as security tried to stop a demonstrator who was carrying a sleeping bag. Police then stepped in to calm everyone down. The person was not removed from the building.

Thursday’s protest is taking place three weeks after a sit-in was held outside Ford’s city hall office.

That day, police escorted nearly 40 activists out of city hall after they refused to leave when the doors to the building were closed to the public.

OCAP says there have been at least eight homeless deaths in 2013 and 34 deaths in 2012, and in February the 700th name was added to a homeless memorial.

With files from CP24 reporter Cristina Tenaglia

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