Backgrounder: City of Toronto’s Homelessness Services
April 10, 2018
City of Toronto’s homelessness services
Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) provides temporary shelter and housing help services for the homeless and people at risk of homelessness.
SSHA delivers the City’s emergency shelter program through a network of City-operated and leased facilities in collaboration with community-based partners.
SSHA provides more than 6,590 emergency and transitional shelter beds in 63 permanent locations, and motel and hotel programs across the city. Almost 2,100 of these beds are in rooms in motel/hotels to mostly serve families. The City directly operates 10 shelter programs and oversees the operation of the 53 others by funded community agencies.
For emergency shelter, residents can call 311. Toll free in Toronto, it is 1-877-338-3398. Youth and adults can also get a walk-in referral to shelter at the Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre at 129 Peter St.
Information about services for people who are homeless is available at https://www.toronto.ca/homelesshelp.
Demand and occupancy
Demand for shelter services in the permanent system has risen about 34 per cent. Average nightly occupancy in the system in March 2018 was 6,068 men, women and children; in March 2017, it was 4,534.
The occupancy rate across all sectors of the system averaged 95 per cent throughout 2017 well above the Council-directed occupancy rate of 90 per cent.
The strong demand for shelter beds is primarily attributable to Toronto’s high cost of housing, combined with a tight rental market, a growing gap between rents and social assistance rates, and the insufficiency of affordable housing options for lower income residents and vulnerable individuals and families.
Since early 2016, SSHA has been experiencing an increase in the demand for shelter services from refugee claimant families and singles. Since then, the average percentage of refugee bed night consumption has gone from 11.2% to 37.5% at the beginning of April 2018.
Shelter expansion plan
To meet increasing demand for shelter, the City has added beds to existing programs and opened new shelter programs, and the City continues to expand motel and shelter services. Current numbers show about 2,300 more beds than were available on November 1, 2016.
At its December meeting, City Council directed staff to provide 400 additional spaces as soon as practically possible and authorized the spending of $10.6 million for this purpose. Half of those spaces are open now and the remaining spaces will be opened in the coming weeks.
On top of the additional 400 spaces, more than 290 shelter spaces will be opened in 2018 as part of five new shelter programs serving men, seniors, youth and LGBTQ2S youth. This includes 60 new beds at the Salvation Army’s New Hope Leslieville shelter, which opened January 8.
During the 2018 budget process Council provided funding to open 1,000 new beds in the shelter system not including beds required to replace capacity lost due to development or other reasons, over the next three years. In 2018, 361 new beds and eight new shelters will open with a total of 531 beds (170 of which are replacements and 361 are new). In 2019 and 2020 the plan calls for four more sites to open with an additional 320 new beds in each year.
Shelter, Support and Housing Administration will be reporting on the progress of this expansion plan in June 2018.
24-hour respite services
24-hour respite services provide a warm, welcoming and safe place for those experiencing homelessness. Services include mats or cots (new programs provide cots), warm food, staffing and service referrals. Work is underway to improve services in these facilities with the development of standards to address physical space and facilities, health and safety, support services and staffing.
Warming or Cooling Centres are sometimes opened in emergency situations, such as during an extreme cold weather or heat alert when there is a need to make more spaces available on a temporary basis. They offer similar services to those provided at the winter respite sites but on a more temporary basis.
For winter 2017-18, winter respite services are available 24/7 between November 15 and April 15. Capacity of the respite system was 160 spaces last winter and has been raised to more than 660 with the opening of 348 Davenport Rd. operated by the City of Toronto on January 27 and 354 George St. operated by Homes First on January 28.
Council has directed staff to continue to provide respite services after the original April 15 close date and work is proceeding at this time to determine what sites and what operators will be able to do that.
Winter services also include the addition of an overnight shift for two street outreach teams during extreme cold weather alerts and additional funding for Out of the Cold overnight programs.
24-hour respite locations
In response to unprecedented demand for both shelter and respite sites during the winter, Council directed staff to keep respite sites open beyond their scheduled close of April 15. Most sites were able to accommodate this request to continue service but there were some that could not. Two new temporary 24-hour respite sites will open in May to coincide with the two sites that must close. Service details are available at toronto.ca/homelesshelp.
The City of Toronto opens warming or cooling centres as necessary during extended periods of extreme weather. Services open as of 7 p.m. the day Toronto Public Health calls an Extreme Cold Weather or Heat Alert. Services remain available continuously until noon on the day that the alert is terminated.
It is the expectation of the City of Toronto that anyone who requests City-funded/operated homeless support and respite services will receive it. Service requests for homeless support services or respite services are not to be refused during the cold weather season.
Service providers who are unable to provide the requested service will provide a referral to another service or program location in order to ensure that people seeking services are not turned away.
Outreach and engagement team
A street outreach team is available year-round from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily to engage street-involved people and to encourage them to work towards permanent housing. Teams assist about 500 households a year to move into housing directly from the street. If someone on the street needs outreach assistance, call 311. In case of an emergency, call 911.
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Media contact: Pat Anderson, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, 416-397-4328, Patricia.Anderson@toronto.ca