Toronto to open two emergency shelters, distribute more than 310K N95 masks to homeless
Published Thursday, January 13, 2022 5:21PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 13, 2022 5:21PM EST
As Toronto braces for another stretch of chilly temperatures in the next few days, the City of Toronto will be opening additional emergency shelter spaces to house those experiencing homelessness.
The city announced Thursday that emergency shelter spaces will be opened at two community centres "in the coming days."
"These new contingency spaces at community centres will offer a safe and welcoming place for emergency shelter, meals, and help connecting to important wrap-around supports like mental and physical health care," the city said in a news release.
No details, including when exactly the shelter spaces will open, were immediately shared.
According to Environment Canada, Toronto will see bone-chilling temperatures in the next few nights. On Friday, the temperature will drop to a low of -21 C, while on Saturday, the low will be -18 C.
Temperatures will remain below the freezing mark on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, with overnight lows of -6 C, -10 C and -8 C, respectively.
In recent weeks, many advocates have sounded the alarm over the lack of beds in the city's shelter system, leaving many out in the cold. The city admitted that demand for beds is at an all-time high, and shelters remain at or near capacity most nights.
According to the city, there are more than 7,200 people using its shelter system, which is comprised of 75 permanent sites and 24-hour respite locations. There are also 26 temporary shelters running as part of the city's COVID-19 response.
On Thursday, the city also announced that it will be distributing more than 310,000 N95 masks to shelter clients. The city said the masks will be sufficient for all clients for at least the next 14 days.
"This new order, with initial deliveries expected to begin in coming days, will add to the city's supply of PPE in shelters sites, including more than 213,000 N95 masks for shelter staff and clients, 188,000 surgical masks and more than 121,000 rapid antigen tests (RAT) for the system," the city said.
Shelter advocates have been calling on the city to provide N95 masks to shelter clients as cases continue to be reported in the system. As of Thursday, 47 city shelters are dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak.
Health officials have recommended the use of N95 respirators, which they say provide better protection against the Omicron variant.
"We have seen the speed at which the variant can spread, and one of the places that I have been most concerned about and most focused on having daily updates on, is the shelter system. From employing physical distancing, to rigorous infection prevention and control measures, providing access to masks for clients and staff, and activating ongoing vaccination clinics, the city continues to take a comprehensive approach to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on the shelter system and people experiencing homelessness," Mayor John Tory said in a statement.
This month, the city is hosting 154 vaccination clinics are scheduled to help those experiencing homelessness get their COVID-19 shot.
According to the city, as of Jan. 7, 76 per cent of those using the shelter system aged 12 and older have received their first dose, 65 per cent have gotten their second dose and 13 per cent have their third shot.
"People experiencing homelessness are some of the most vulnerable residents in our city and we must do everything possible to ensure they are protected during this wave of the pandemic," Toronto Board of Health Chair Joe Cressy said in a statement.
"At the City of Toronto, we will continue to prioritize vaccination opportunities, operationalize additional capacity, and increase access to personal protective equipment for those experiencing homelessness."
- with files from Abby Neufeld