Street nurse critical of city during cold alert

A former street nurse says the City of Toronto doesn’t do enough to assist the homeless in cold weather.

For the past week, Toronto has faced its coldest temperatures in over two years, with three consecutive cold weather alerts. Once the city issues a cold weather alert, officials relax shelter restrictions and take in more homeless off the streets. The city also opens up a reserve of 172 shelter beds during extreme cold weather alerts to help ease crowding. However, street nurse Cathy Crowe believes city services in such emergencies fall short.

“The city barely calls a cold weather alert,” Crowe said. “They have to be pressured through the use of media and lobby groups… Then, they finally add beds to an overcrowded system; they aren’t really beds, more or less cots.”

Crowe assessed the problems in city shelters.

“There are good shelters,” Crowe said. “Shelters save lives, (but) there is a stigma that says we don’t need shelters; we can just put them into housing. But we will always need shelters; they literally save lives.”

Since 2009, Crowe has worked with documentarian Laura Sky focusing on social housing problems in the GTA. The documentary highlights how some of the people, who are forced to rely on shelters and social housing, actually have jobs.

“Quite a few people who come to rely on shelters and social housing have jobs, (but) they don’t pay well enough to provide,” Sky said.

Pat Anderson, a manager with the Toronto Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, believes the city provides enough during extreme cold weather alerts via its outreach services.

“We provide TTC tokens at drop-ins around the city,” she said. “That helps people in need reach shelters, that night there will also be additional street outreach from volunteers.”

The City’s outreach assistance program is available by dialing 311

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