Despite bitter cold conditions, city says Toronto shelters still had some room


Although the wind chill hit the minus-20s and minus-30s this weekend and into Monday morning, Toronto shelters and respite sites didn't quite hit capacity. 

Todd Orvitz, director of strategic solutions with the city, said the positive is everyone who arrived at a shelter was serviced. 

"We continue to have space available for people that are looking, on any given night in Toronto, we have around 7,000 people who are staying in our shelter system," he said. 

Additional sites were also opened during the Extreme Cold Alert, including a warming centre at Metro Hall. 

Mayor John Tory said it worked out to roughly 95 per cent capacity. 

"There were the usual several dozen of people who the street outreach teams reached out to offer help to who are on the streets," he said. "Some chose to remain on the streets." 

"They say no in terms of the options that are presently available, which is why you hear me having so much to say about the need in particular to establish much more in the way of supporting housing." 

While there was still room in so far the coldest stretch of the winter, the demand for resources is still massive. 

For 20 years, charity Engage and Change has been running Project Winter Survival and founder Jody Steinhauer said this winter has been a record. 

Of the 21,000 survival kits that have been ordered - which include 37 items from sleeping bags to hygiene - Steinhauer's small group of volunteers has only been able to build and deliver about 3,000. 

They service over 200 agencies and after the kits were delivered on Saturday, Steinhauer said she was already getting requests early Monday morning before leaving her home for work. 

"We've already had three outreach people reach out throughout the night and leave us messages and say, 'please if there's any kits left over, we're already out,' which is scary," she said. 

As Steinhauer and her team delivered the packages Saturday, she came across a woman who looked roughly 70 years old. 

"She came up shaking and I literally wrapped my arms around her and just gave her a hug and then took the sleeping bad and wrapped around her and said, 'you've got to go inside,'" she said. "It just really breaks your heart, these people have got a lot of challenges and they need our help."