Lack of bed space leaves some out in the cold

Volunteers with an unsanctioned supervised injection site in Moss Park say they were forced to send patrons out into the frigid cold on Saturday night, after being unable to locate shelter beds for them.

But the city says there were still beds available. In an emailed statement sent out Sunday morning, a spokesperson from the mayor's office said there were in fact still spaces available at the Better Living Centre on Saturday night.

Gillian Kolla of the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society told CP24 she attempted to find shelter beds for a number of patrons on Saturday night, but was told by intake officials with the city’s shelter system that there were not any available, at least at nearby facilities.

Kolla said that she ultimately had to send some of the patrons back out into the cold when the supervised injection facility closed at 10 p.m.

“I was giving people gifts cards so they can at least go in, get a hot chocolate, warm up and have a warm place to stay for a few minutes,” she said. “It is really, really hard when it is -25 C outside to send people out into the cold.”

Kolla said that there were a number of patrons using the services at Moss Park supervised injection site on Saturday,but many more who were simply seeking shelter from the extreme cold.

She said that crowding in the city’s shelter system has been at a crisis point for a long time and is now putting lives at risk.

“We are here to address the overdose crisis, we are not here to address the shelter and housing crisis but we are being called in to action because we are dealing with a very vulnerable, marginalized group of people and it happens to intersect,” she said. “Tonight is an example of when the housing crisis and the overdose crisis are meeting each other and really creating a dangerous situation for people in Toronto.”

Earlier this month, Mayor John Tory announced that 100 new shelter beds would be opened up at the Better Living Centre on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition.

Kolla told CP24 that she attempted to send some of her patrons to that facility but was told that there was no space.

She said that she subsequently realized that there was “literally nowhere” to send people seeking shelter inside the Moss Park site.

The city's shelter system often runs at about 95 per cent capacity overall, though it is not uncommon for no beds to be available at some facilities.

with files from CP24