As winter arrives, so does a new homeless shelter in Toronto's west end

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With snow piling up on the streets of Toronto, the city is grappling with a familiar question: is there enough shelter space for the homeless as temperatures drop? 

City staff are hoping Junction Place, a new facility set to open Nov. 25 at 731 Runnyemde Rd., located near St. Clair Avenue West and Dundas Street West, will help answer that need. 

"I'm very excited about this,"said Mary-Anne Bedard, the general manager of shelter support and housing for the City of Toronto as the shelter was officially unveiled Thursday evening. 

Bedard said people in the surrounding neighbourhood were "nervous" after hearing of the new shelter, but have since rallied to stand behind the project.

"I think this community has really embraced this service ... as you can see tonight, there was a lot of celebration." 

Shelter rooms designed to 'create more dignity'

Junction Place is designed a bit differently from other shelters, Bedard says. 

The layout includes "smaller rooms that create more dignity for clients," and will allow those clients to bring their pets, she says. 

"[Clients can] have them stay with them at bedside," she told CBC Toronto Thursday.

Bedard also says residents will be able to take cooking and life-skill lessons, as well as participate in programming that will be open to the entire community. 

The shelter has partnered with health providers; primary care will be delivered at the site and referrals will be made to outside clinics and hospitals as needed. 

Bedard also said this will be one of the first shelters built that will be "completely AODA compliant," which means it is accessible to clients who may have mobility or visual issues. 

Homeless people forced to move downtown

Bedard says the city is looking to spread shelters out across Toronto. 

"People don't become homeless in the downtown area, they have to move downtown to receive services," Bedard said. 

More and more, she says, people are becoming homeless while they are still employed. But their jobs are put in jeopardy because they are forced to move downtown to get the care they need. 

By embedding shelters in local communities, people who become homeless can maintain their social, work and family relationships, which "all contributes to reducing the amount of time they actually spend in homelessness," she said. 

4,000 to 8,000 in shelters every night

Bedard said five years ago, the city was sheltering about 4,000 people a night.

Since then that number has doubled. 

In a news conference Wednesday, street nurse Cathy Crowe, urged Toronto Mayor John Tory to declare a state of emergency on homelessness in the city. 

"This is the first year that everyone that works in the [homelessness] sector is saying, 'It has never been this bad,'" Crowe said. At least eight homeless people have died in Toronto since mid-October, she told reporters. 

Earlier this week, the city unveiled its winter plan for homelessness, which includes an additional 484 shelter spaces.

That number doesn't include Junction Place beds because other clients will be moved there from Seaton House, Toronto's largest shelter, which is being vacated for the George Street revitalization.

According to the city's website, 75 per cent of shelter beds will be available by Friday, Nov. 15.