Toronto’s anti-poverty activists are threatening to occupy Metro Hall if city council doesn’t add more shelter spaces for the homeless to eliminate what they are describing as a life-threatening shortage.

Protesters are planning to set up an “emergency” homeless shelter inside the public building March 7 if Toronto’s mayor and councillors fail to meet the group’s demands.

In response to the group’s pleas, city Coun. Adam Vaughan tabled a motion asking council to debate the issue at Wednesday's regular council meeting, but the motion was defeated.

After the vote, activists in the gallery at city hall shouted down Mayor Rob Ford and councillors who rejected the motion.

Vaughan, who called the situation a "crisis," said there isn't enough space in the existing shelters and the city is failing to meet the needs of its homeless residents.

John Clarke, founder of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, said activists will take action if city council does not hold an emergency debate.

“If it is rejected, then essentially the city council is taking the position that they are prepared to abandon human beings, they are prepared to let people die on the streets,” Clarke told reporters at city hall before Wednesday’s regular council meeting.

Clarke said deaths will be prevented if the city adds beds.

Clarke said Toronto’s shelter facilities are at 96 per cent capacity right now, creating miserable conditions for people who rely on the system for a place to sleep overnight.

“At 96 per cent the shelters become unbearable and impossible for people to survive in,” Clarke said.

When the system is at or near capacity in its current state, the crowded shelters become breeding grounds for disease, people with special needs are excluded, and many people are left without a place to go, activists say.

There is also frustration and tension among clients, Clarke said.

At OCAP’s news conference, Bryan, a shelter user for more than a decade, said today’s shelters are “absolutely deplorable,” and there is more competition because some facilities have closed over the years.

Bryan, citing a number of incidents he has witnessed, said there has been an increase in violence.

“The violence has escalated badly in the shelter system in the last few years,” he told reporters. “We need more space.”

Bryan said shelter users are suffering from mental health issues and addictions, and some people are afraid to go to facilities because of the violence or intimidation from others.

Last Friday, demonstrators occupied city hall for several hours before they were escorted out by police. Most were led out peacefully, but at least one person was brought out in handcuffs and another had to be dragged out.

Police said tickets were given to the activists who were forced to leave after the building closed to the public.

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