Toronto opens two emergency shelters, distributes more than 310K N95 masks to the homeless

As Toronto braces for another stretch of cold temperatures in the coming days, the city of Toronto will open additional emergency shelters to accommodate the homeless.

The city announced on Thursday that emergency shelters will be opened in two community centers in the coming days.

“These new emergency spaces in community centers will provide a safe and welcoming place for emergency shelters, meals, and help connect to key enveloping supports such as mental and physical health care,” the city said in a press release.

No details were shared, not even when exactly the reception rooms will open.

According to Environment Canada, Toronto will see frigid temperatures in the coming nights. On Friday the temperature will drop to a minimum of -21 C, while on Saturday the minimum will be -18 C.

Temperatures will remain below freezing on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, with -6 C, -10 C and -8 C respectively at night.

In recent weeks, many proponents have been sounding the alarm about the lack of beds in the city’s shelter system, leaving many out in the cold. The city admitted that the demand for beds is at an all-time high and that the shelters remain on or nearby most nights.

According to the city, more than 7,200 people use the shelter system, which consists of 75 permanent sites and 24-hour respite sites. There are also 26 temporary shelters in operation as part of the city’s COVID-19 response.

On Thursday, the city also announced it will distribute more than 310,000 N95 masks to shelter clients. The city said the masks will be enough for all customers for at least the next 14 days.

“This new order, with first deliveries expected to begin in the coming days, will add to the supply of personal protective equipment in shelters, including more than 213,000 N95 masks for shelter staff and customers, 188,000 surgical masks and more than 121,000 rapid antigen testing (RAT) for the system,” the city said.

Shelter advocates have called on the city to provide N95 masks to shelter clients as cases continue to be reported in the system. Since Thursday, 47 city shelters have been dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak.

Health officials have recommended the use of N95 respirators, which they say provide better protection against the Omicron variant.

“We’ve seen how quickly the variant can spread, and one of the places I’m most concerned about and focused on is the containment system. From applying physical distancing to rigorous infection prevention and — In response to mitigation measures, providing access to masks for customers and staff and activating ongoing vaccination clinics, the city continues to take a comprehensive approach to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on the shelter system and people who are homeless,” said Mayor John Tory in a statement.

This month, the city is hosting 154 vaccination clinics slated to help homeless people get their COVID-19 shot.

According to the city, on Jan. 7, 76 percent of those using the rescue system ages 12 and older received their first dose, 65 percent their second dose, and 13 percent their third injection.

“People who are homeless are among our city’s most vulnerable residents and we must do everything possible to ensure they are protected during this wave of the pandemic,” said Joe Cressy, chairman of the Toronto Board of Health, in a statement.

“At the City of Toronto, we will continue to prioritize vaccination opportunities, operationalize additional capacity and improve access to personal protective equipment for the homeless.”

– with files from Abby Neufeld

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