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City working to expand shelter service following 3rd death

A dedicated group of people gathers at the Church of the Holy Trinity on the second Tuesday of every month to help feed the homeless.

Activists say the city needs more places where the homeless can find food and shelter as they came together on Tuesday at the church to mourn the city’s homeless who have died.

Two men, believed to have been homeless, were pronounced dead last week after being found outside in the cold.

City officials confirmed Tuesday that a third homeless person, a 61-year-old man, also died last week. The man had sought shelter at the Streets to Homes Referral Centre at Peter and Richmond streets Wednesday night and passed away in his sleep early Thursday morning.

The city has recognized that more shelter beds are needed.

“The women’s shelters are at capacity…also co-eds are at capacity and adult men are also at capacity. All those areas are places where we need to expand our services,” said Coun. Joe Mihevc, who is chair of the Toronto Board of Health. “We know that we are about 100, maybe 200 beds short in the system as a whole.”

A plan to open two new drop-in centres for women, 100 more permanent shelter beds as well as a shelter for lesbian, gay and transgendered people has been approved by city council but still has to go through the budget process, which means they would not open before spring.

Mihevc said that isn’t good enough.

“When we think someone actually died because they were not able to be brought in from the cold, it just gets our moral spines up,” he said. “There is a sense of urgency behind getting these shelters open more quickly, the drop-ins open more quickly during this winter season.”

Mihevc is working to push through at least one of these projects in the coming weeks but he and others agree the thing that would really help the homeless is more permanent affordable housing.

Coun. Joe Cressy explained, “What we really need to do is invest in year round shelter support but also affordable housing so that people have a roof over their heads. (That) ultimately is the solution here.”

Tap the below charts on average nightly occupancy in Toronto city shelters by month for 2011-2014. Data courtesy of City of Toronto. Mobile viewers, click here.

CORRECTION: The name of the church was incorrect in a previous version of this story.