The City of Toronto has the largest shelter system in Canada. To mitigate the impact of COVID-19 to people experiencing homelessness, the City opened temporary shelter sites to accommodate physical distancing requirements. As of September 1, 2022, the City’s shelter system was providing indoor overnight space to 8,103 people, 39.5 per cent of whom were being served in temporary COVID-19 response programs.

In April 2022, Council approved the COVID-19 Shelter Transition and Relocation Plan (EC28.9) (“Transition Plan”), a phased workplan to respond to the pandemic and transition over the next 24 months, including continued use of most temporary shelters until at least April 2023.

In 2023, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) will update Council on the progress of Phase 1 of the transition and plans for subsequent phases.

Current Status

SSHA is working with divisional and community partners to implement the Transition Plan.

  • EC28.9 granted authorities required for lease/licence extensions at temporary shelter sites and services into 2022 and 2023 – this allows the City to gradually return some capacity to the base shelter system, while assessing ongoing demand and continuing to decommission sites;
  • Decisions about which locations to decommission will be based on continued availability of sites to operate as shelters and willingness of the property owners to continue arrangements. SSHA has negotiated lease extensions with most sites;
  • Lease negotiations continue with three locations and have led to decommissioning of the 45 Esplanade site on October 12, 2022. Decommissioning these sites would result in a total of 680 decommissioned beds between April 2022 and March 2023. Decommissioning plans rely heavily on people staying in temporary sites before moving into housing. When housing cannot be secured, clients are supported to relocate to an alternate shelter space or risk returning to the street or encampments; and
  • SSHA, in partnership with Corporate Real Estate Management (CREM), continues an ongoing search for additional temporary and permanent shelter sites to offset high demand for services.

Background & Context

Toronto’s homelessness service system provides immediate, housing-focused, person-centred services for people experiencing homelessness, and consists of emergency shelters, 24-hour respite sites, 24-hour drop-ins, temporary COVID-19 response programs, street outreach services, and day-time drop-ins. Toronto has more shelter beds per capita than any Canadian city, currently accommodating over 8,000 people each night.

Despite increases in bed capacity since April 2021, nightly occupancy in the shelter system is at its highest ever as of the end of July 2022 due to increasing demand from both refugee and non-refugee individuals.

SSHA is developing a distinct refugee service sector to offer specialized services. In 2022, Council has supported initiatives to provide spaces for approximately 1,375 refugees experiencing homelessness.

In addition to capacity issues, Toronto has also seen a substantial rise in opioid overdoses within the overall community, as well as within the shelter system, creating further pressures to the system. This is mainly due to the increasing toxicity of the unregulated drug supply.

Truth, Justice & Reconciliation

Indigenous people are overrepresented in homelessness due to the ongoing effects of colonialism, inter-generational trauma and racism. The Meeting in the Middle Strategy and Action Plan was co-developed to foster better relationships between SSHA and Indigenous organizations.

Since the launch of Meeting in the Middle in 2017, SSHA has strengthened divisional capacity to meaningfully engage with Indigenous organizations, provided Indigenous cultural learning and development for staff, increased financial investments in Indigenous housing and homelessness services, and improved relationships and accountability to Indigenous partners in the housing and homelessness sector.

The actions and priorities co-developed with Indigenous housing and homelessness providers as part of the SSHA Homelessness Solutions Service Plan 2021 call for a distinct approach to serve Indigenous people experiencing homelessness. This work directly supports Action 14 of the City’s Reconciliation Action Plan, Increasing Access to Affordable Housing. In addition, SSHA is one of the 7 City divisions conducting a reconciliation audit in 2023.

Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

Specific groups are overrepresented among the homeless population in Toronto, particularly Indigenous people, racialized individuals (particularly those who identify as Black) and 2SLGBTQ+ individuals. SSHA works to incorporate an intersectional and inclusive approach for all system planning whereby the experiences of diverse service users are considered.

SSHA is dedicated to confronting Anti-Black racism and it remains an implementation priority of the 2021 SSHA Homelessness Solutions Services Plan.

In consultation with Indigenous and Black advisory tables, decommission planning aims to work with operators to maintain the integrity of residents’ chosen communities and affinity groups during any necessary relocation, whenever possible. Providing opportunities for people to relocate with communities from which they draw support can partially mitigate the destabilizing impacts of relocation.

A harm reduction protocol for transition is also being developed to ensure continuity of supports for people who access harm reduction services at temporary shelter sites.

Key Contact

Gordon Tanner
General Manager, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration

Additional Resources