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Police break up OCAP homeless protest at Metro Hall

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) took over Metro Hall on Thursday, temporarily turning the downtown building into an emergency homeless shelter to protest a lack of beds in Toronto.

But shortly after the building closed at 9:30 p.m., police began removing the protesters.

Some left on their own accord, while others were forcibly carried out by officers.

“We feel the need to do this protest because we keep getting reports of people dying on the streets,” OCAP spokesman Gaetan Heroux said earlier outside Metro Hall.

At city hall on Thursday, Mayor Rob Ford said “OCAP is wrong” and accused the group of creating a false sense of crisis.

“It’s a publicity stunt,” Ford added.

OCAP claims that eight homeless people have died this year alone and there were 34 homeless deaths in 2012.

“I was around in 1996 when three men froze to death and we had an inquest and we vowed, ‘this would never happen again,’” Heroux said.

The existing shelters are completely full, Heroux said, and the group is calling for Metro Hall, at King and John streets, to be opened as a temporary emergency shelter to house the homeless.

Ford said, “Every single night, there are empty beds in our shelter system. On average, about three to four per cent are empty every night. How many empty beds should we have?”

Responding to complaints that the city’s policies and lack of beds leave people on the street, Ford said that many homeless people choose not to use shelters and the city cannot force people to use beds.

The city claims there are enough beds across the city and more are opened when the temperature dips below -15 C. A staff report on occupancy will be discussed next month, and some councillors have said they don’t want to rush to open any new shelters without considering the report.

Last month, city council voted against adding an emergency debate on shelter beds to a scheduled council meeting. Debate about increasing facilities for the homeless will instead happen at a committee meeting on March 18.