Mayor John Tory is promising to make additional shelter spaces available by the end of the week following the recent deaths of a number of homeless people in sub-zero temperatures.

Last week, two homeless man were found dead— one in the back of a delivery truck and another in a TTC bus shelter – and on Tuesday night emergency crews found another man dead following a fire at a makeshift home in Scarborough.

It has not been determined whether the third man was homeless or whether his death was related to the cold.

“Any one death is something that is unacceptable and it is tragic. That is why over the last couple weeks I have been devoting myself to trying to do something in the shorter term and the longer term to address the issue,” Tory told reporters after making a speech to the Dairy Farmers of Ontario on Wednesday morning. “One death is just one too many.”

The city’s network of shelters has more than 4,400 beds available; however the system operates at about 93 per cent capacity during the winter months and homeless advocates have in the past pointed out that not everyone is necessarily able to gain access to a facility when they need it, since many are exclusively reserved for men, women or families.

Discussing the issue with reporters, Tory said that he has been working with city officials and is in a position to add “some additional capacity for people who need shelter, particularly in the winter months” by the end of the week.

The exact number of beds that will be added is not known, though Coun. Joe Mihevc told CP24 on Wednesday afternoon that city staff have identified the urgent need for 100 spaces as well as an additional 100 to help provide more flexibility in the system.

Tory also said that he hopes to make “more permanent arrangements” to address the issue of overcrowding in the city’s shelters in the upcoming budget.

The mayor, however, cautioned that there is no simple solution to poverty.

“I am confident we are doing what we can but will it cause the problem to be solved overnight? No it won’t,” he said.

City is ‘definitely behind’ on issue of homelessness

While Tory said he is pleased with the work the city is undertaking on homelessness, a research coordinator with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness at York University said Toronto is “definitely behind” on the international stage.

“Shelters are an important thing to have but they are more of a band aid. They are supposed to be just for emergencies, maybe up to two weeks, they are not the solution to the issue,” Tanya Gulliver told CP24 on Wednesday. “The number one thing is housing. We need affordable housing that people across this country can afford.”

A report on homelessness in Toronto is expected to be presented to council in March.

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