Since the start of the pandemic, the City of Toronto has implemented a comprehensive response to COVID-19 for people experiencing homelessness, which is focused on infection prevention, recovery and housing. The City continues to evolve its approach to respond to current conditions, to protect and prioritize people experiencing homelessness.
To keep people safe in the City’s shelter system, comprehensive measures have been implemented, including:
Learn more about the City’s shelter system and other homelessness services.
The City has implemented stringent IPAC measures, including enhanced cleaning protocols. All agencies receive support for enhanced IPAC measures, PPE, wage enhancements and increasing vaccine uptake ($6 million in 2020 and $3 million in 2021). Staff throughout the sector are kept up-to-date with current measures through online and in-person training, as well as frequent communication updates and regular sector-wide webinars.
Additional IPAC measures include:
The City issued a Toronto Shelter Directive confirming that all shelter sites are required to maintain physical distancing to meet current Ministry of Health guidance for shelter settings during the pandemic. All shelters in the Toronto shelter system meet these requirements.
This was accomplished by opening temporary shelter sites to create physical distancing in the shelter system and provide space for people to move indoors from encampments. There are currently 26 temporary COVID-19 shelter and 24-hour respite sites operating that provide more than 3,000 spaces. Learn more about temporary COVID-19 response sites.
To ensure City shelters stay safe, the City has provided guidance and support on maintaining physical distancing, including:
In tandem with physical distancing measures, masking is a key part of preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other communicable illnesses. Requirements are outlined in the City of Toronto shelter directive, updated in December 2021.
All shelter staff are required to wear medical masks and eye protection in the workplace for the duration of their shifts. To strengthen protection, all front-line staff have been provided N95 respirator masks. Currently, the City is distributing more than 100,000 pieces of PPE for staff working in the homelessness sector each week.
Shelter residents are also required to wear medical masks in all indoor common areas of shelter and respite sites. Shelters provide a supply of medical masks for residents’ use in common areas, including elevators, hallways, lobbies, laundry rooms and other shared facilities. While masks are not required in sleeping areas, showers or outdoor areas, physical distancing should be maintained.
Screening and testing staff and residents ensures that COVID-19 is detected swiftly and outbreaks are mitigated in the Toronto shelter system. Staff are screened at the beginning of every shift; residents are screened daily and at shelter entrances.
All shelters, 24-hour respite sites and women’s drop-in programs have received rapid antigen tests for use on staff or clients, as needed. These rapid tests provide initial results within 15 minutes. Residents who screen positive are offered appropriate supports and safe isolation space.
On-site testing also continues to be an important part of addressing COVID-19 in Toronto’s shelter system. With leadership from Ontario Health Toronto Region, community health partners and Toronto Public Health, on-site testing continues to be implemented in shelter locations across the city where recommended by Toronto Public Health.
Shelter, Support and Housing Administration is working closely with Toronto Public Health and other health partners, including the Inner City Health Associates (ICHA), to manage COVID-19 cases in the shelter system, including outbreaks. Information on active outbreaks can be viewed at COVID-19: Active Outbreaks.
The City continues to operate an Isolation and Recovery Site to support people who test positive and require additional support during their isolation period. The program is run in partnership with ICHA, University Health Network, Parkdale Queen West and The Neighbourhood Group, and offers an integrated model of care that includes intensive clinical, harm reduction and peer and personal support. The program is pet- and family-friendly, and children/infants can remain with their parents on-site.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Toronto Public Health has guided the homelessness sector on the creation of effective isolation plans to ensure shelter residents needing support have a place to safely isolate.
In the context of widespread Omicron transmission in the general community, in discussion with TPH, and when recommended, there will be cases where people impacted by COVID-19 will be asked to isolate on-site, also known as in-situ. Unique isolation plans will be developed with service providers should this occur to ensure they have the support needed to continue to operate in accordance with Ministry of Health guidelines for isolation and outbreaks in congregate living settings. A mobile harm reduction peer support team (known as MOVID) led by Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre and The Neighbourhood Group will also provide support to individuals isolating during an outbreak.
Anyone requiring urgent medical care will be referred to a hospital.
Through partnerships with Inner City Health Associates, Ontario Health Teams, Indigenous Health Teams, Ontario Health Toronto, local hospitals, family doctors and community-based health care service providers, the City is providing COVID-19 vaccination clinics for people experiencing homelessness staying in the shelter system, accessing drop-ins and living in encampments, as well as for frontline shelter staff. We continue to work with our partners to efficiently administer first, second and third doses.
The City supports vaccine uptake in the shelter system by:
Learn more about the City’s efforts to prioritize vaccinations for people experiencing homelessness in the news release from January 7, 2022.
There has been an increase in the number and size of encampments as well as concerns about the safety and well-being of people living outdoors and the impact on the local community.
To respond to these concerns, the City and community partners have mobilized a COVID-19 response strategy for outreach in encampments that prioritizes health and safety, and remains committed to creating sufficient safe indoor spaces for Toronto residents experiencing homelessness.
The City invested $1 million to expand or re-open safe daytime indoor space for people experiencing homelessness in July 2021. This investment is expected to result in over 9,000 sq. ft. of net new indoor drop-in space, 150 net new operating hours and over 1,500 net new meals provided indoors.
The Daytime Drop-in Indoor Space Fund is a one-time fund to support existing daytime drop-in provider with small capital projects, operating funding or both. It was developed in collaboration with the Toronto Drop-in Network (TDIN) to ensure the needs of the sector and those they serve were addressed.
This funding responds to the need for increased access to safe daytime indoor space for people experiencing homelessness.
The Toronto Rent Bank, a partnership between the City of Toronto and Neighbourhood Information Post, provides grants to eligible Toronto residents who are behind on their rent or need help with a rental deposit. By providing these grants, the Toronto Rent Bank ensures that people at risk have the support they need to stay in their homes and prevent homelessness.
The City has made significant program changes to the Toronto Rent Bank to respond to the needs of low-income households during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include:
In 2020, 1,062 households accessed loans of approximately $3.3 million. Another 1,717 households accessed loans and grants of approximately $5.1 million in 2021.
These program changes were described in a report to Economic and Community Development Committee in March 2021.
Learn more about the Toronto Rent Bank.
In 2020, SSHA launched the Rapid Rehousing Initiative. The initiative accelerates the movement of people experiencing homelessness who are on the Centralized Waiting List into vacant Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) units. It is a partnership with TCHC, the Furniture Bank and 20 City-funded community agencies providing follow-up housing stabilization supports to tenants.
As of the end of 2021, the Rapid Rehousing Initiative helped 961 people move into permanent and fully furnished housing with supports. Helping people move from the shelter system into stable housing, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, is the best option for people experiencing homelessness and also creates space in the shelter system. This work will continue throughout 2022. Learn more about the Rapid Rehousing Initiative.
The Rapid Rehousing Initiative and Toronto Rent Bank are programs that were created or enhanced to respond to COVID-19. The City has many other programs to help people access housing that continued throughout the pandemic. Learn more about the City’s housing supports.
In September 2020, City Council endorsed the Housing and People Action Plan and the COVID-19 Interim Shelter Recovery Strategy as the framework for prioritization of the City’s intergovernmental advocacy work on housing and homelessness over the next 24 months (2020 PH16.8) and to complement the City’s HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan.
In December 2020, City Council also requested support from other orders of government for the 24-month Housing and Homelessness Recovery Plan to create 3,000 permanent housing opportunities, including $48 million to provide 2,000 housing opportunities with supports (2020 PH19.11).
Learn more about new supportive housing developments.