“Had we done this a month ago it would have already been in place before the cold weather spurt” – Councillor Joe Cressy

9:20 p.m., Jan. 5, 2017. The Moss Park Armoury will be used as an emergency respite centre in the coming weeks.

Jan. 5, 2017

By Arianne Robinson

The City of Toronto announced Friday it would be opening the Moss Park Armoury for 24/7 winter respite on Monday morning following an announcement from MP Adam Vaughan at city hall, only he said that the site would be available within hours.

“When we signed off on the agreement we said we could have it open within 12 hours; that was a little while ago,” Vaughan told reporters on Friday. “So the city will be in charge of determining when they can get their operating facilities delivered to the site and personnel delivered and security, what have you, but I expect it will be a matter of hours not a matter of days.”

However, City of Toronto staff announced later on Friday the site would not be open until Monday. Paul Raftis, general manager for Shelter Support and Housing Administration, called the response time reasonable given all the logistics required to set up the space. “We need this weekend to be able to set up and to serve a hundred people at this location.”

The Friday night announcement comes in the midst of historic cold in Toronto and follows a city council vote in December against asking the federal government to open the armouries. Instead Mayor John Tory announced, with Poverty Reduction Advocate and Councillor Joe Mihevc, that the Better Living Centre, part of Exhibition Place on the southwest side of city, would be used as an emergency warming centre.

“The unfortunate reality is we didn’t have to scramble at the last minute to open warming centres and the armoury,” Councillor Joe Cressy told Signal Toronto at city hall on Friday evening. “Had we done this a month ago it would have already been in place before the cold weather spurt.”

Asked whether he thinks Monday is too late, Cressy said, “I’m told Monday’s the soonest we can be ready. Last week was too late but Monday’s the soonest we can be ready and our tremendous staff are working around the clock to make sure that’s the case.”

On Twitter, Councillor Josh Matlow started the day blaming the mayor and council for not initiating the process in December. “Toronto could’ve made the request for access, and initiated negotiations, to the armouries in early December. The Mayor and Council decided not to. They voted against doing so.” Later, he was critical that the armouries wouldn’t be open Friday night “[The Moss Park Armoury] should be open tonight. We’re in the midst of a deep freeze. We can do better than this.” – and as then eventually a sharp turn “City staff, along with partner agencies, are literally working round the clock to support our city’s most vulnerable. They’re dedicated & deserve our gratitude. But what must change is a system that’s unnecessarily forced to go into reaction mode when the needs were predictable.”

Mihevc, one of the December votes against opening the armouries, was positive in his response about the decision. “It is good news for homeless folk who need a warm place,” he wrote in a statement to Signal Toronto on Friday evening. “The city has responded to the crisis in a thoughtful way expanding facilities as the weather got more and more brutal and as homeless folk presented themselves to our respite centres. Thanks to the Feds for their help.”

Mayor John Tory sent a statement following the announcement by city staff saying there will be increased demand on the shelter system in the coming weeks.

“I want to be clear that there remains space for all those who need it within the current winter respite system and that two additional warming centres have been opened during this extreme cold weather alert. Together, these measures constitute the largest City increase in shelter capacity during a winter season to meet unprecedented increases in demand,” read the statement from Tory.

“The request regarding Moss Park was made this week in anticipation of required additional capacity in the coming weeks.”