Keep warming centres open 24/7 for rest of winter, Board of Health urges city

From CP24

Toronto’s Board of Health is urging the city to keep its warming centres open 24/7 for the remainder of the winter season.

The board of health voted overwhelmingly in favour of the motion Monday afternoon during its monthly meeting.

The motion, jointly presented by councillors Ausma Malik, Ajejandra Bravo and Gord Perks, also asks city council to declare a public health crisis based on the “systemic failure of all three levels of government to provide adequate 24-hour, drop-in and respite spaces.”

In a statement released following the meeting, a spokesperson for John Tory said that the mayor “supports a pragmatic approach based on the best advice from our city staff” when it comes to helping Toronto’s most vulnerable.

The spokesperson, however, noted that last year roughly half of the times that warming centres were opened it was done in the absence of an Extreme Cold Weather Alert, which is the automatic trigger for the opening of the centres.

Deputants urge city to act

A dozen deputants, many of whom shared difficult first-hand stories about how the cold has harmed those they love and care about, spoke during Monday’s meeting.

Dr. Jacqueline Vincent, a psychiatry resident at St. Michael’s Hospital, asked why it acceptable to continuously holding discussions about basic human rights like people not freezing to death on the streets instead of doing something about it.

“Please do what you can to help make help patients keep their fingers and toes and feet intact. Please do what you can to prevent me from seeing more patients like the one I did just a couple of weeks go whose feet were so badly frostbitten they could not walk for days,” she said.

“Please help my patients keep themselves and their belongings warm and dry during cold winter says.”

Dr. Stephen Hwang, an internal medicine physician at St. Mike’s and the director of Unity Health’s MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions, expressed how he’s become “increasingly concerned” about the health and wellbeing of unhoused people in Toronto this winter.

Hwang, who along with colleagues published a research paper on the effects of hypothermia on people experiencing homelessness in Toronto, said he often faces the “impossible dilemma” of discharging his patients to the street and the cold “after having laboured so hard and so long to help them recover from a serious illness.”

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