Chaotic. That best describes the situation as the city of Toronto scrambled in recent weeks to open emergency shelters and drop-in centres for people seeking protection from the record cold.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In fact, the city added 1,300 beds in the last two years to its shelter system to avoid just such a calamity.

Clearly, it hasn’t been enough to cope with a 30-per-cent increase in demand for beds. Part of the pressure on the system comes from an influx of refugees, who now comprise 28 per cent of those in shelters. At the same time, homeless people in nearby cities who can’t find beds in their own communities are coming into Toronto. And others who would normally choose to sleep on the street are heading to shelters to escape the extreme cold.