This is the foundation of all City-funded services and programs to address homelessness and housing for vulnerable people in Toronto. Successful implementation of this strategy is largely the reason for a more than 50% reduction in outdoor homelessness between 2006 and 2009.
Research and experience have shown that formerly homeless individuals, even those with complex mental health and addiction issues, can successfully maintain housing with the appropriate supports.
There is also evidence that providing appropriate housing and supports is more cost effective for taxpayers than doing nothing to assist vulnerable homeless people. That’s because people use more costly emergency services when they are on the street than when they have the safety, dignity and security of a place to call home.
Streets to Homes
In Toronto, Streets to Homes has had remarkable success in helping people living outdoors to find housing and providing the follow up supports that help them to maintain their homes. To yearend 2009, more than 2,800 people have moved into housing since the program’s start in 2005, most directly from the streets. Most clients remain in their homes.
Streets to Homes outreach and follow up services are available to people living outdoors and also to those in housing who panhandle during the day. This model forms the basis for At Home/Chez-Soi, the Mental Health Commission of Canada's $110 million research demonstration project in five cities to find the best way to provide housing and services to people who face mental illness and homelessness. The City of Toronto and the Centre for Research on Inner City Health are co-leads for the Toronto project.
How many homeless people in Toronto?
Latest research shows that the overall estimate of homeless people in Toronto has remained stable between 2006 and 2009.
The results of the April 15, 2009 Street Needs Assessment, a statistically valid point-in-time census and needs survey that is conducted by the City every three years, shows that the estimated number of people living on the streets on that night was less than half the 2006 estimate. The survey does not attempt to collect information on the “hidden” homeless (couch surfers, etc).
Toronto’s emergency shelters
The vast majority of homeless people in Toronto use the City-administered emergency shelter system which provides more than 3,800 permanent shelter beds on a nightly basis, with more beds available during the winter and as needed. There are 57 shelter locations, most operated by community agencies under agreements with the City. There are nine City-operated shelters. All shelters are required to abide by the Toronto Shelter Standards. Most shelters are 24/7 and a main focus is providing assistance to get people into housing.
Within the family shelter system, the City has access to motel beds in order to meet demand. A main factor in family homelessness is the impact on refugees to Canada of international geopolitical events and Canada’s federal immigration policy since Toronto is a main gateway to the country and often newcomers must begin their stay in Canada in a family shelter.
Social housing in Toronto
The portfolio of approximately 90,000 social housing units in Toronto is worth about $9 billion and is administered on behalf of the City of Toronto by the Shelter, Support and Housing Administration Division to ensure some 249 non-profit providers (including City-owned Toronto Community Housing Corp., the largest social housing organization in Canada) adhere to the provincial Social Housing Reform Act. Annual cost to governments of running existing social housing is about $530 million, about 36% of which is covered by Toronto property taxes. The provincial government downloaded this responsibility to municipalities in May 2002.
Toronto’s new affordable housing initiatives are guided by the Affordable Housing Office, which reports directly to the Deputy City Manager.
Tenant assistance and community initiatives
Housing First in Toronto means helping vulnerable tenants to avoid eviction. The City funds a community agency to provide advice in 150 languages through the Tenant Hotline. It also funds Housing Help centres throughout the city where people can get advice on finding and keeping affordable housing as well as Rent Bank loans for qualified tenants facing eviction due to rental arrears. No-cost loans are also available to those who qualify for first and last month's rent deposit if they must look for more affordable housing because of the recession's impact on household finances. Supports to Daily Living help almost 3,000 households in alternative housing to remain in their homes.Reflecting the importance of drop-in centres in providing safe places for homeless, marginally housed and socially isolated people to access meals, showers, laundry facilities and help with housing needs, the City directly funds 28 drop-ins and supports the coalition that serves most drop in services in the city.
There is also City support for social enterprises that create employment opportunities for those facing barriers to work and also provides employment skills training for people in shelters and looking to re-enter the work force.
Emergency Human Services
Toronto has a well-developed plan that provides services to residents and their pets evacuated from their homes during declared and undeclared emergencies, such as a neighbourhood fire or power blackout.