The City of Toronto is Failing many of its Most Marginalized Homeless Citizens by IMAGINE Clinic

Cathy Crowe raises public outcry for the state of Toronto’s 3rd warming centre
By: Madeleine Bondy, MPH Year 1

 /* Style Definitions */
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt;
   An image of the of the third warming centre without any signs or advertisements   Photo credit: Cathy Crowe

An image of the of the third warming centre without any signs or advertisements
Photo credit: Cathy Crowe

Check out this video to see a clip about Cathy discussing the warming centre.

For many, winter is a time that challenges both mental health and mobility, but Toronto’s homeless and street involved population is the most vulnerable to the season’s wrath. With an overcrowding problem in both the shelter system and Out of the Cold programs, a third warming centre has been created in Toronto. However, according to 30-year activist and street nurse Cathy Crowe, the “implementation process has been an outrage.”

The idea of warming centres originated in Toronto after the 1996 freezing deaths inquest. Periodically, the city would open warming centres or an emergency shelter that would last for a few weeks or months in provisional spaces. It wasn’t until 2016 that the city decided to create two warming centres that would open in January and remain active 24/7 until the end of February. These centres quickly became overcrowded, and activists pressured the city to develop a third warming centre that would open its doors from December 15th 2016 to the end of February 2017. However, According to Cathy Crowe, “its unfolding has been a disaster.”

The centre operates at the St. Lawrence Community Centre from 9 PM at night to 9 AM in the morning. Unfortunately, the City has done little to promote its existence, rendering it invisible to many. “They are not advertising it. They have asked the media not to mention it. It is not on the website there is no signage, the doors remain locked all night” Ms. Crowe states. The capacity is capped at only 30 people. 

An individual can only access the centre if you go through central intake or if you go to another warming centre and get referred to it. “I call it the secret warming centre and have lodged an official complaint for the first time in my 30-year career” states Cathy. She explains how if individuals can’t find a space in the system they are forced into parks, ravines and sidewalks, and other precarious, isolated, and potentially dangerous spaces.

Cathy has a few theories about why the city has not advertised the centre. The first is that the third warming centre is built only for overflow from the other two to meet the fire code.

The other possibility is that they are responding to concerns voiced by the community. The community centre is attached to a school and a daycare, and because of the stigma surrounding homeless and street-involved folks, there has been local resistance to the warming centre. Cathy attributes this conflict to damaging planning on the part of the City states that, “The City could have picked another centre. Instead, they have created limited hours because of the multiuses of the sites. It is really unacceptable that it has been designed this way. I think they have violated a lot of human rights and equity policies in the city. It reeks of discrimination

Ms. Crowe is also calling for emergency opening of the city armories - Fort York and Moss Park as we continue to lose human lives. “We are talking about people who are dying at a very young age,” Ms. Crowe states, “It is a two tiered system. They do it because they think they can get away with it.”  In the long term Ms. Crowe says we need a plan to replace the warming centre program and the Out of the Cold with permanent shelters. “Both are winter only programs which don’t meet shelter standards.” Lack of sufficient space and resources for some of Toronto’s most marginalized and precarious individuals isn’t limited to the winter—in fact, the City has planned to cancel the $30,000 budget used to operate essential cooling centres in the summer. In a world where climate change is sending temperatures soaring towards unprecedented highs, this is a potentially fatal decision. It’s time to protect the unhoused population of Toronto in all seasons.

What you can do:

1.           Write to Councillor Pam McConnell (because it’s in her ward) and Paul Raftis, the General Manager of Shelter Housing and Support to ask for an explanation and for improved access including early opening hours, staffing to be at front door, public promotion of the site including to agencies and more meals. Contacts:, .

2.           Cathy has started a petition to open up the armories as an emergency shelter space. Please consider signing the petition here:

3.           The IMAGINE Clinic has signed an open letter to Mayor John Tory urging him to open emergency shelter space. Please encourage your organization to also sign the letter. Read more about the issue here: and here

4.           Invite Cathy in to speak! Cathy is always willing to speak with students, faculty and community members on campus to share information about political action and health. Contact: , website is, Facebook or Twitter @cathyacrowe

5.           Cathy recommends this resource for more information about advocacy efforts in Toronto