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December 2, 2002
Extreme cold weather alert called
Toronto Community and Neighbourhood Services - Toronto's Director of
Hostel Services has issued the first extreme cold weather alert of the
2002/2003 winter season to help get homeless people in from the cold. The alert
is effective for two days: today, December 2, and tomorrow, December 3.

An alert goes into effect when Environment Canada:
  • predicts a temperature of -15 degrees C or lower, without wind chill
  • issues a wind chill warning for outdoor activity for people in the Toronto area
  • predicts extreme weather conditions, such as a blizzard or ice storm
Under the alert the following extra services are available to help
homeless people:
  • 78 additional emergency sleeping spaces in Toronto shelters
  • increased street patrols by Anishnawbe Health Street Patrol to reach homeless people
  • distribution of TTC tickets through over 50 drop-in centres and outreach agencies to help homeless people reach shelters
  • emergency transportation through the Canadian Red Cross for homeless people trying to reach services/shelters.
The STREET Helpline
service at 416-392-3777 also operates 24 hours a day to let homeless people and
frontline workers know where to find shelter and other services. Members of the
public can also call this number if they see a homeless person sleeping outside.

This is the seventh year the extreme cold weather plan has been in place. Last
year, alerts were in effect for 12 days. "We are always concerned about people
sleeping outside, and are working on many fronts to address homelessness," said
John Jagt, Director of Hostel Services with Toronto Shelter, Housing and
Support. "But when the temperature drops to these levels, our first priority is
to ensure the immediate safety of some of our most vulnerable citizens."

A designated team works throughout the winter to monitor conditions on the
street. Team members include representatives from Toronto Shelter, Housing and
Support, Toronto Public Health, Emergency Medical Services, the Out of the Cold
program, STREET Helpline, Anishnawbe Street Patrol, Youthlink Innercity,
Canadian Red Cross and the Toronto Police Service.

Members of the public and businesses who wish to donate blankets, food and
services, or volunteer their time throughout the winter, are invited to call
Community Information Toronto at 211 for information and referral.

Extreme Cold Weather Alerts / Fact Sheets / Backgrounder ... follow

Extreme Cold Weather Alerts

Q. Who monitors the weather?

A. Toronto Shelter, Housing and Support, Emergency Preparedness Unit monitors weather forecasts daily from November 15 to April 15. Unit staff will then advise the Director of Hostel Services when an alert may need to be called.

Q. What exactly happens during a cold weather alert?

A. The approach depends on the types of services needed at the time. However, there is a core response for each alert.

  1. The Director of Hostel Services calls an alert to increase services to homeless people when Environment Canada predicts the following conditions:
    1. daily predicted low of -15 degrees Celsius without wind chill; or
    2. the wind chill reaches the level at which Environment Canada issues a warning for outdoor activity for people in the Toronto area; (in technical terms this occurs when the wind chill and the temperature produce a wind chill factor over 1800 watts per square metre); or
    3. extreme weather conditions, such as a blizzard or ice storm.
  2. Members of the designated alert team advise the Director of Hostel Services on the number of people sleeping outside, and the availability of hostel beds. When an alert is called, this is what occurs:
    1. The Emergency Preparedness Unit notifies shelters that an alert has been declared and opens extra spaces in shelters across the City of Toronto, if necessary.
    2. Toronto Hostel Services advises shelters of extra services they could provide, e.g., extra food, clothing, leniency in curfews.
    3. The Out of the Cold program adds extra space and meals to its overnight programs if necessary.
    4. The number of street patrol workers is increased to get word to homeless people about the extra services. Extra services may include more shelter spaces, warm clothing, blankets, food and transportation.
    5. TTC tickets are given to homeless people trying to reach services/hostels, and drop-in centres are also given TTC tickets.
    6. The Canadian Red Cross and Na-Me-Res provide emergency transportation to homeless people trying to reach services/hostels.

Community Information Toronto operates its STREET Helpline 24 hours a day (416-392-3777) from November 15 to April 15 to provide information to homeless people on services and overnight shelter

Q. Will this program prevent homeless people from sleeping, and possibly dying, on the streets in severe weather?

A. The enhancement of services should result in fewer people sleeping outside in very severe weather. However, some homeless people may not want to accept help until they have established a trusting relationship with staff or outreach workers. There is no guarantee no one will die because of these extra services.

Q. Will homeless people who are sleeping out of doors be picked up and taken to shelter?

A. There will be no forced removal of homeless people. However, trained street outreach workers will encourage homeless people to go to a shelter, and will help them get there by arranging transportation or TTC tickets.

Q. Why not just pick them up and bring them to shelters?

A. Forced removal is usually counterproductive. It can be seen as abusive and could result in homeless people retreating from services that have helped them in the past. Outreach workers contacting homeless people during extreme cold weather will come from agencies that have established relationships with them. This should result in more homeless persons voluntarily coming into temporary shelter. Also, shelters have no authority to confine people who are brought in without consent.

Q. Why does the Director of Hostel Services call an alert at -15 degrees Celsius?

A. The -15 Celsius temperature was chosen after a review of the weather conditions that preceded the deaths of three homeless people in 1995, and of severe winter weather conditions between 1992 and 1996. There is no clear medical evidence on what constitutes extreme and potentially harmful weather. Factors such as wind, snow, clothing, overall health and alcohol levels combine to create a potentially harmful situation. For some people, hypothermic injury or death can occur at temperatures as high as +5 degrees Celsius.

Q. If the temperature stays at -15 or lower longer than expected is the alert extended?

A. An extreme cold weather alert is a short-term, emergency response. It is not sustainable over an extended period of time and it is not intended to replace longer-term solutions to problems faced by homeless people. Extended services can last up to a few days.

Q. What should the public do to help when an alert is called?

A. Anyone wanting to help throughout the year can call Community Information Toronto at 211 for information on volunteering and donating. Volunteers and donations are needed throughout the year, but the public should not call specific agencies to offer help during an alert.

Q. How many homeless people are there?

A. More than 30,000 people are expected to use emergency shelters in 2002 in the City of Toronto. However, the Mayor's Homelessness Action Task Force found that 106,000 tenant households face severe affordability problems because they pay more than half of their income on rent, and are therefore at risk of becoming homeless.

Q. How much does the extreme cold weather alert program cost?

A. The City of Toronto allocates $30,000 this year for the Cold Weather Alert program, which was established in 1995 to help homeless people. The money goes to selected drop-ins, shelters, street patrol and telephone services for extra staff outreach during the alert, transportation, crisis intervention, security, blankets, food, cleaning services, etc., as well as on volunteer and staff training. The City also contributes funds through expanded shelter space and funds for enhanced services.

Q. Where did the extreme cold weather initiative come from?

A. This strategy, first implemented in the winter of 1996/97, arose from a June 1996 report of the Homeless Emergency Action Task Force (HEAT) to respond to the increased number of homeless people who need services and the erosion of federal and provincial funding for services for vulnerable citizens. The strategy was developed in consultation with social service agencies, volunteers, homeless people and government representatives.

Q. Homeless people are at risk all year round. Will this strategy be used at other times
of the year?

A. This particular initiative is intended to address only one part of the range of issues and problems faced by homeless people. It is the result of a directive by the former City of Toronto Council to come up with strategies to deal with extreme cold weather. Work continues year-round to provide services to homeless people. Protocols also exist to ensure that homeless people have increased access to critical services during heat alerts in the summer months.

Fact Sheet
December 2, 2002
Handling the cold & hypothermia

Maintain a heated environment (City law requires landlords to maintain an adequate heat level of 20° C/68° F between September 15 and June 1 of each year).

Wear layers of warm, dry clothing including hat and gloves.

Cover exposed skin surfaces as protection from frostbite (numbness, red-white nose, chin, fingers, forehead, stiff cheeks); warm affected areas gradually by wrapping or placing next to warm skin; do not rub.

Be aware of hypothermia (body temperature of 35° C/95° F or less). Signs include stiff muscles, puffy face, slurred speech, shivering uncontrollably, slowed breathing, poor physical condition and mental confusion. If these signs are recognized, call 911.

Drink non-alcoholic beverages such as tea, coffee, hot chocolate or soup.

Maintain good nutrition and get plenty of rest.

Prescription drugs may increase vulnerability to cold. Check with your doctor or pharmacist.

Be aware of elderly and disabled people living alone; offer assistance.

It is dangerous to use an oven as a heating device. All space heaters are a fire risk if used improperly.

If you are a homeless person who is at risk in severely cold weather, call the STREET Helpline at 416-392-3777 to help you find shelter and services.


Services for Homeless People in the City of Toronto

The City of Toronto provides emergency shelter, street outreach, drop-ins, eviction prevention and hostel diversion programs. Programs alone will not resolve homelessness. Much more must be done to address the underlying causes of homelessness and increase the supply of affordable housing.

The following is a summary of City of Toronto services for homeless people.


The City of Toronto funds approximately 60 emergency shelters for homeless families, single adults and youth, with a total capacity of about 4,600 people. In addition to shelter beds and daily meals, City-owned or funded hostels provide personal needs allowance, case management, counselling, job and housing search services, children's programming, follow-up and harm reduction services for people with addictions and/or mental health issues.

Community Support

Out of the Cold:

Many churches, synagogues and agencies and one hospital provide accommodation for an estimated 160 adults and youth at different locations every night of the week. The City of Toronto funds the Out of the Cold program to cover staffing, administration and to co-ordinate the services of Out of the Cold member organizations.

Street Outreach:

The City of Toronto, through various programs, provides funding to community-based agencies to provide services for homeless people. These agencies provide street outreach, information and high-support referrals to people living out of doors. The City's priority is to help people on the street gain access to shelter, housing, drop-ins and other homeless programs and services.


More than 30 organizations provide drop-in services for homeless people year-round. Drop-ins provide entry points to the health and social service system, as well as to employment and housing opportunities. They often function as a substitute home for many single homeless and socially isolated people by providing refuge from the cold and a place to rest, have a meal, take a shower, do laundry and meet people. They also help people with health and mental health problems through on-site nursing services and crisis intervention.


The City provides support for community-based agencies to help individuals obtain and/or retain affordable, adequate and stable housing. Services include: housing vacancy information; tenant-landlord mediation; counselling on housing issues including eviction prevention; advocacy with income support programs; and community follow-up. In the first half of 2001, these agencies worked with 3,495 clients and assisted 1,143 (33%) in retaining or finding housing.


The City helps plan and co-ordinate the homeless service sector through a number of advisory and consultative committees such as the Advisory Committee on Homeless and Socially Isolated People, Alternative Housing & Services Committee, Rooming House Work Group, Aboriginal Steering Committee, and Refugee Housing Task Force.


Several organizations work with homeless people on physical and mental health issues throughout the year, including Street Health, St. Michael's Hospital and the Gerstein Centre.

Let's Build

"Let's Build" is an action-oriented program established by the City of Toronto to help get affordable housing built. Since the spring of 2000, Let's Build has helped put more than 650 affordable housing units in the pipeline. Toronto Council has adopted production targets of 1,350 housing units for the period of 2001-2003. With more help from the federal and provincial governments, more units could be built more quickly.

Information Services

Community Information Toronto (CIT) operates Street Helpline at 416-392-3777 year-round to help homeless people gain access to shelter and services. CIT also provides general information about services through its Blue Book - the Directory of Community Services in Toronto - and a general inquiry line at 211.

Media contacts:
John Jagt, Director, Hostel Services, Shelter, Housing and Support,
416-392-5358, after hours 416-420-0771
Cynthia Ross, Partnership Development, Shelter, Housing and Support,
Rosemary Bennett, Manager, Communications, Community and Neighbourhood
Services, 416-392-8386, pager 416-328-4402

Media Contact
see Media Contacts above



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