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Toronto’s breakbone cold

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I can hear the cold wind blowing outside, taking on an almost human voice. It's at least -20'C zero.

This bone chilling cold has spread across the prairies all the way to the Maritimes, making thousands vulnerable to the cold.

Cold enough to kill.

And it has.

There have been two public deaths the City of Toronro knows about, they were found frozen to death within a forty-eight hour period.

First on Monday, January 5, 2015, a man in his fifties was found in the west end of the city dead in an abandoned van in a shipping yard on Davenport Road, near Landsdowne Avenue. His identity has yet to be released.

Then the next day, another homeless man named Shabbir Jaffa was found frozen to death in a bus shelter at the busy intersection of Yonge and Dundas. There was a rally for the two gentleman on January 8, 2015.

While the effect of this brutal polar vortex on the homeless is very obvious to those who know where to look -- and yet simultaneous hidden to those passers-by -- who knows how many people who are vulnerable to the cold and shuttered away in rooming houses and hotel rooms; wearing all their clothes even when inside?

It's tragic the irony that while the freezing cold could usher them into an early death, others could die by fire as they light whatever they can to keep warm.

There's of course, the generocity – from the perspective of the government, a gesture that seems half way between a noble courtesy and a grand gesture of duty – to open up warming shelters. Although to our new mayor, John Tory, he was interviewed wandering the streets seemingly frustrated that some of the homeless would not go into shelters without checking out the reality of the shelter system for himself in the first place.

Any way, our mayor’s benevolence on Tuesday January 6, 2015, was given a push by a small sit-in by homeless advocates and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP).

Let me remind you that the two men died on Monday January 5 and Tuesday January 6, 2015.

There are now two, pop-up, warm up centres in the city but according to housing advocates the emergency shelters are full (over 90% capacity according to OCAP).

The two warming centres, Margaret's Toronto East Drop-in (323 Dundas Street East) and St. Felix Social Ministries Outreach (25 Augusta Avenue).

It is ironic that at the same week, five women who participated in a demonstration in late November to highlight the lack of a 24 hour safe space for women and trans-identified people headed to court in the middle of this bone breaking cold.

On Thursday January 8, 2015, the women who were previously arrested at the November 25, 2014, action to demand an increase in shelter capacity and open an 24-hour drop in space for women and trans-identified people; those who are either at risk of sexual harassment or abuse on the streets and those who might get turned away from mainstream or religious-run shelters due to their gender identity.

November 25 was the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women,  so anti-poverty and housing activists gathered at the City of Toronto’s Shelter Administration office at 21 Park Road to demand that those who are homeless in Toronto find some measure of safety and dignity.

These were commitments that were approved by Toronto City Council back in 2014 but have yet to be acted upon or made permanent.

The fight continues. 

In reality, people don’t need warming centres and emergency shelters. They need affordable housing. They don’t need charity. They need social justice.

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