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Toronto's largest respite centre to close next month, admissions cut off


Toronto’s largest temporary respite centre for people experiencing homelessness will soon be shutting down for the season.

On Tuesday, the City of Toronto announced that it has stopped accepting new admissions to its 24-hour site at Exhibition Place’s Better Living Centre (BLC), with the plan to completely shut down that location by March 15.

“The City is working to transfer clients to other spaces within the shelter system and those who have filed claims for refugee status will have the opportunity to transfer to hotels outside of Toronto operated by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada,” the City of Toronto said in a Feb. 20 news release.

To help offset the closure of this location, service is being adjusted at two other sites until the city’s winter season programming concludes on April 15.

Starting in mid March, the 60-space warming centre at 75 Elizabeth St., near Bay and Dundas streets, will transition into a 24-hour respite program.

Metro Hall at 55 John St. will also be made available for use as a warming centre with the capacity for about 45 people when temperatures reach -5 C or when Environment Canada issues a winter weather event warning, the city said.

Speaking with CP24 on Tuesday afternoon, Gord Tanner, general manager of the city’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA), said that the early closure of the respite program at the Better Living Centre was something that they’d been planning for.

He pointed to adjustments that have been made at other sites to meet any extra demand for shelter as well as accommodation that is being arranged for those currently using the program at the Exhibition Place site.

“Everyone that's currently at the Better Living Center will be offered a referral to another space in our shelter system as well as working closely with our colleagues at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, some individuals will be offered support to move to another community in Ontario to continue their work to access permanent housing,” he said.

This winter season, the City of Toronto is also operating 24-hour winter respite sites at 20 Gerrard St. E. and 502 Spadina Ave. The Gerrard location, which opened on Nov. 15, has roughly 30 spaces for vulnerable youth, while the one on Spadina, which opened on Nov. 27, has 50 spaces for male-identifying individuals.

The closure of the Better Living Centre respite is not news as the city had noted back in December that the venue at 195 Princes’ Blvd. needed to be vacant by March 25 for another contracted booking.

“The city extends its thanks to Exhibition Place for its partnership in helping the city provide these services,” it said in a release.

The temporary respite at the Better Living Centre first opened on Dec. 21 as a 240-bed program, but was expanded to 300 all-gender spaces when extreme cold weather set in earlier this year. The respite at the BLC has been operating at full capacity since it opened, the city said.

“The city is encouraged that so many people were helped by the services made available at the Better Living Centre. (It) recognizes more supports like this are needed and that is why the Winter Services Plan continues to evolve to address the ongoing challenges faced by people experiencing homelessness,” the City of Toronto said in a release.

The city is asking anyone who needs to access space at these sites to call Central Intake at 416-338-4766 or 1-877-338-3398.

As part of its 2023/2024 Winter Services Plan for People Experiencing Homelessness, the city also added approximately 180 spaces to the shelter system, and activated four warming centres for when the temperature hits -5 C or colder as well as additional surge spaces when it drops to -15 C.

An extra 140 operating hours were also added at 10 city-funded drop-in locations throughout the city for the duration of the winter season.

Further, street outreach teams are being dispatched when the temperature reaches -15 C in an effort to encourage people to come indoors, the city said.

Ongoing work is also underway to tenant 275 housing units available throughout the winter.

A homeless man sleeps in a bus shelter, in Toronto, on Friday, March 11, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

In the last three months, approximately 11,000 people have used Toronto’s shelter system.

Currently, the city provides shelter for roughly 9,800 people at any given time in the shelter system, while an additional 2,000 unhoused people are being supported outside of Toronto's shelter system. Almost half of those who are seeking emergency shelter from the city are refugees and/or asylum seekers.

This month, on average 144 people per day who sought shelter in Toronto were turned away due to lack of capacity.

Tanner, of SSHA, said that it’s “critically important” for the city to continue its work to support unhoused people in Toronto, especially efforts to secure permanent housing for them, which he said happens every day with the “close” support of community partners as well as the provincial and federal government.

“And we continue to support people as best we can get into permanent housing with supports they need,” he added.

“The long-term solution for homelessness is housing and that's something that city and the Mayor of Toronto has taken on in a big way. We're building more supportive housing in the city of Toronto than we have in decades.”

Tanner went on to say that a “huge gap” still exists and efforts continue to address that.

“We'll continue to work as hard as we can to get people out of the shelter system and into supportive housing as best we can while we continue to work with other levels of government about getting housing built as quickly as possible in Toronto,” he said. Top Stories

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