Anti-poverty activists promise to occupy Metro Hall on March 7
A homeless person panhandles for money during an extreme cold weather alert for the City of Toronto on Monday, December 13, 2010. (Nathan Denette / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Wednesday, February 20, 2013 10:09AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 20, 2013 12:59PM EST
Anti-poverty advocates promised to turn Toronto’s Metro Hall into a temporary homeless shelter after council voted down a motion to hold an emergency debate on the state of the city’s shelter system.
Members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty filled council chambers on Wednesday as Coun. Adam Vaughan tabled a motion that would see council hold an emergency debate on the issue.
The group says Toronto’s shelters are operating at capacity, leaving few options for the city's homeless men and women.
When the motion failed, there was an outburst by OCAP protesters, who began chanting “no more homeless deaths.”
OCAP vowed to take over Metro Hall on March 7 and use the space as a homeless shelter.
Immediately after the outburst council went into recess.
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said he “predicted” OCAP’s reaction and said the protesters were not acting “democratically.”
“These are people that just don’t care about society’s rules,” Holyday told CP24 when asked about the planned sit-in. “We’re putting millions into the shelter system in Toronto and mainly to look after people that don’t even live here.”
Holyday said he voted against the motion after shelter staff reported that there were enough beds available in the city. He also said Toronto shelters have a policy that no one is turned away.
Before the vote took place, OCAP organizer John Clarke told reporters that an emergency debate on the need for more shelter beds is essential if the city is to prevent homeless deaths.
“If it is rejected, then essentially city council is taking the position that they’re prepared to abandon human beings, they are prepared to let people die on the streets.”
Clarke said Toronto shelters are running at 96 per cent capacity.
“At 96 per cent, the shelters become unbearable and impossible for people to survive in,” he said. “Anyone with any kind of special needs is excluded, it means enormous waiting times… it means intolerable tensions.”
In April 1999, city council passed a report capping occupancy of the single men's shelter system at 90 per cent, though OCAP says there’s been overcrowding at the facilities for the last 10 to 15 years, leaving the city to rely on church and synagogue basements for emergency overflow.
Last week OCAP set up a temporary emergency outside Mayor Rob Ford’s office to highlight what Clarke called a “crisis” in the shelter system.
The group says 34 homeless men and women died last year and six have died so far this year.
Metro Hall, located at the corner of King and John streets, is where many of the city’s employees work.