03/07/2013 01:13 EST | Updated 05/07/2013 05:12 EDT

Rob Ford: Poverty Activists Creating A False Crisis Over Shelters


TORONTO - Mayor Rob Ford says he won't put up with any poverty activists who try to disrupt work at a civic centre in downtown Toronto.

Members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty have been holding a demonstration at the city's Metro Hall, with dozens of people spreading blankets and sleeping bags on the floors.

The protesters say they are trying to bring attention to the city's shelter problems, and claim budget cuts have reduced the number of shelter beds to a crisis point.

But Ford says that's "absolutely not true," adding that about 100 beds (three to four per cent of those in city shelters) are empty every night.

The mayor says the city has more than 3,800 beds at 57 shelters and accuses the poverty group of holding a "cheap publicity stunt" to create a false crisis.

Ford says Metro Hall is a public place and members of the group have the right to gather there, but he says he won't tolerate any disruptions to city business or workers.

Ford denied the poverty group's claims that the city has cut funding to shelters. In fact, he says it has increased funding and added beds.

During extreme weather alerts, the city adds 170 additional beds to its shelter system, he said. Even during the coldest nights in recent weeks, there were beds available for those who needed them, said Ford.

"People are not turned away from city shelters," he said. "City policy is to never turn away a person that needs help or shelter."

Last month, more than 50 OCAP activists demonstrated at city hall and called on council to hold an emergency meeting on homelessness.

Police later removed protesters who did not leave the building at closing time.

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