Toronto looking into opening armoury to help deal with homeless seeking shelter

Toronto Mayor John Tory says he will look into opening a federal armoury to cope with what he called unprecedented strain on the city's shelter system for the homeless.

Tory says he will contact the federal government on Wednesday to request permission to make the Moss Park armoury in the city's downtown core a 24-hour respite centre.

He says doing so would add up to 100 beds to a system that has been strained nearly to capacity by a prolonged spell of extreme cold.

Tory says city statistics indicate demand on the system has surged 30 per cent compared to the same time last year.

The city faced calls over the weekend to open armouries as temperatures plunged below -20 Celsius.

Advocates have said they tried in recent days to find spots for the homeless at some of the city's shelters only to be told they were full. The city has said there are still beds available, blaming miscommunication for the confusion.

Last month, council voted down a motion to make the armouries available to the homeless despite an offer of support from the federal government.

Tory says that regardless of whether the Moss Park armoury becomes available as a resource, the city is already adding extra beds to cope with rising demand.

Paul Raftis, the city's general manager of shelter support denied the claim Tuesday telling reporters "there's no intentional gaming of the system.

"It's very dynamic. Those beds fill and become empty regularly through the 24-hour period."

Raftis says he has asked staff to review the intake process and communication -- in particular the accuracy real-time information about shelter bed availability.

Raftis said he is working with city ombudsman Susan Opler on the situation.

Opler says her office will begin an inquiry that will focus on the winter needs of the homeless and whether the city is providing services in a way that ensures people's dignity, safety and comfort.

with files from Siobhan Morris