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Advocates identify man found frozen to death at Toronto bus stop in January


For the first time this winter, homeless advocates have confirmed the identity of one of at least four people who froze and died on the streets of Toronto.

His name was Bernard Kelly.

At 74-years-old, he had a slim build standing five-foot-six with a head of short grey hair, police said. On the day he went missing, Kelly was wearing grey pants and a single multi-coloured glove.

Three days later, Toronto police shared a tweet saying they had located Kelly. While advocates say Kelly was found dead, police told CTV News Toronto they could not confirm the death of an individual unless that person was a victim of a homicide or suspicious incident.

“When he was discovered by police on Jan. 31, he was frozen and dead,” Doug Johnson Hatlem, a street pastor at Sanctuary Toronto and an organizer at the Toronto Homeless Memorial, told CTV News Toronto. “He died at a bus shelter in Toronto.”

While Kelly has been identified – organizers of Toronto’s Homeless Memorial have learned of at least three more people who suffered cold-exposure deaths – all of whom remain nameless.

One person passed away on Feb. 4 in a bus shelter near Sherbourne and Shuter streets. Another was discovered in the Don Valley and a third was found with hypothermia, said Johnson Hatlem.

A Unity Health Toronto spokesperson confirmed there were “less than five deaths” due to hypothermia at St. Michael’s Hospital and no deaths at St. Joseph’s Health Centre between November 2021 and January 2022. To respect patient privacy, numbers of less than five are not provided. Across the University Health Network, no deaths of this nature were reported.

The weekend Kelly died, Environment Canada issued an extreme cold weather warning following a historic snowstorm and a series of cold snaps in the city – with temperatures plunging below -30C with the wind chill.

At the time, the weather agency stated, “Extreme cold warnings are issued when very cold temperatures or wind chill creates an elevated risk to health such as frostbite and hypothermia.”

“I do have to wonder whether we have normalized people sleeping outside, people sleeping on grates, people sleeping in TTC stations and TTC bus shelters, sprawled out on the sidewalk,” Johnson Hatlem said.

“I think all of us need to ask ourselves what kind of city we’ve let ourselves become a part of…that lets people sleep outside in the winter when it's cold enough to kill.”

In a sense, walking by a person sleeping in a bus shelter has become “normalized,” said Dr. Naheed Dosani, health equity lead at Kensington Health in Toronto. “We don’t even bat an eye.”

“Add on the intersections of an individual who is racialized and you have multiple reasons why someone is in the situation that they are in because of different kinds of vulnerabilities, being a senior, being frail, being racialized,” Dosani said.

“We really need to have a larger conversation about how our social and health-care systems are doing more to protect people like this from dealing with such unfortunate circumstances.”

Beyond brutal temperatures, encampments and tiny shelters in Toronto – both spaces where homeless communities frequently congregated in the past – have been removed by the city since last winter, forcing the community to disperse.

“When you’re in an encampment, you can help each other,” Johnson Hatlem said. “It’s also easier to hand out aid.” Instead of arriving at a single location to pass hot meals to a unified group, he said it now takes him hours to reach 20 to 25 people.

Both Toronto Public Health and the Office of the Chief Coroner were not able to confirm information on cold-related deaths that have taken place this winter.

“Death investigations can take months to complete to determine the medical cause of death and manner of death. But any death that is sudden and unexpected is investigated by the Office of the Chief Coroner,” a spokesperson for the coroner’s office said.

“My sense is that there are a lot of gaps that aren’t being addressed right now and we need the data and information to be able to better understand those gaps,” Dosani said. “Ultimately, this information isn’t just information. It’s information that will save lives.”

At noon on the second Tuesday of every month, the Toronto Homeless Memorial reads out the names of those who have passed.

While Kelly has now been identified—without a name, others can’t be.

“That really concerns me that we might be missing out on dozens of homeless deaths,” Johnson Hatlem said. Top Stories

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