Backgrounder: City of Toronto’s Homelessness Services
January 9, 2018
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 5,700 emergency and transitional shelter beds in 63 permanent locations, and motel and hotel programs across the city. Almost 1,500 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 more than 30 per cent. Average nightly occupancy in the system in December 2017 was 5,429 men, women and children; in December 2016, it was 4,189.
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.
A recent source of occupancy pressure on the system is the increase in new arrivals to Toronto seeking refugee status. There were 643 people seeking refugee status staying in the shelter system on an average night in November 2016 compared with 1,532 a night in November 2017, about 28 per cent of the shelter population.
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 1,475 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.
Council also voted last month to direct City staff to expedite the opening of three additional new shelters in 2018.
Winter Respite Services
Winter weather can be extremely dangerous to those sleeping rough and reluctant to use the shelter system. Historically, the demand for shelter beds spikes during winter months when the need to provide warm spaces is especially urgent. In response, the City operates a winter respite program to increase the availability of low-barrier services.
Winter respite services provide a warm, welcoming and safe place for those experiencing homelessness. In winter 2017-18, 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 500 with the January 6 opening of the Moss Park Armoury operated by the City of Toronto.
The City is working with provincial partners to identify and prepare a facility in the downtown core that will be used as a winter respite service through to April 15. Details to come as soon as available.
Winter respite 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.
Winter Service Locations
In addition to winter respite services, there is year-round 24/7 service for women at two drop-in programs. The Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre is also open 24/7 year-round for shelter referrals.
The drop-in locations are:
- Fred Victor Centre 24-hr Women’s Drop-in, 67 Adelaide St. E. (available year-round)
- Sistering 24-hr Women’s Drop-in, 962 Bloor St. W. (available year-round)
- Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre, 129 Peter St. (available year-round for shelter referral only)
- Downtown East, Margaret’s Housing and Community Support Services, 323 Dundas St. E.
- Downtown West, St. Felix Centre, 25 Augusta Ave.
- Exhibition, Fred Victor, Better Living Centre, 195 Princes’ Blvd.
- Parkdale, Salvation Army, Church of the Epiphany and St. Mark’s, 201 Cowan Ave.
- Scarborough, Warden Woods, 705 Progress Ave. Unit 29
- Yonge Bloor, Margaret’s Housing and Community Support Services, 21 Park Rd.
- Moss Park Armoury, operated by City of Toronto until approximately Sunday, January 21, 8 am, 130 Queen St. E.
The City of Toronto opens warming centres as necessary during extended periods of cold weather. By the end of the Extreme Cold Weather Alert that lasted 14 days, December 25 to January 8, two warming centres were opened 24/7 with an overflow facility at the ready at a downtown community centre.
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. During Extreme Cold Weather Alerts, the street outreach team is deployed 24/7 to engage street-involved people. The focus is to provide information about the danger of weather conditions and to urge people to come inside. If someone on the street needs outreach assistance, call 311. In case of an emergency (for example, a person lying on the street with skin exposed), call 911.
Out of the Cold Overnight Programs
Out of the Cold is a faith-based, volunteer-driven program that provides hot meals, hospitality and a place to sleep. The 17 locations in Toronto typically operate between November and April. The City provides funding to Dixon Hall to co-ordinate the Out of the Cold programs and to provide additional resources such as nursing, blanket services and transportation.
Out of the Cold overnight programs are available at the following locations:
- All Saints’ (Kingsway) Anglican Church, 2850 Bloor St. W.
Fridays, November 24, 2017 to April 6, 2018
- Beth Emeth, 100 Elder St.
Mondays, January 8 to February 26, 2018
- Beth Sholom, 1445 Eglinton Ave. W.
Tuesdays, January 2 to March 20, 2018
- Blythwood Road Baptist Church, 80 Blythwood Rd.
Saturdays, November 4, 2017 to March 31, 2018
- Chinese Gospel, 450 Dundas St. W.
Thursdays, January 4 to March 29, 2018
- Eastminster United, 310 Danforth Ave.
Fridays November 3, 2017 to March 30, 2018
- Evangell Hall, 552 Adelaide St. W.
Tuesdays November 7, 2017 to March 27, 2018
- First Interfaith at St Matthew’s, 729 St. Clair Ave. W.
Thursdays, November 2, 2017 to March 29, 2018
- Holy Blossom Temple, 1950 Bathurst St.
Thursdays, November 2, 2017 to March 29, 2018
- Knox United, 2575 Midland Ave.
Fridays, November 3, 2017 to March 30, 2018
- Lakeshore at St Margaret’s, 156 Sixth St.
Mondays, November 27, 2017 to March 26, 2018
- St Aidan’s, 70 Silver Birch Ave.
Mondays, November 6, 2017 to April 23, 2018
- St Patrick’s, 139 McCaul St.
Sundays, November 19, 2017 to March 25, 2018
- St. Brigid’s Annex, 1099 Danforth Ave.
Mondays, November 20, 2017 to April 9, 2018
- St. Matthew Our Lady of Peace, 3962 Bloor St. W.
Sundays, November 19, 2017 to March 25, 2018
- University Settlement House, 23 Grange Rd.
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, October 2017 May 2018
- Yorkminster Park Baptist, 1585 Yonge St.
Wednesdays, November 1, 2017 to April 4, 2018
More information about the Out of the Cold overnight program, including eligibility, services and hours, is available under the Winter Services tab at http://www.toronto.ca/homelesshelp.
Additional Services Triggered by Extreme Cold Weather Alerts
The Medical Officer of Health will issue an Extreme Cold Weather Alert when Environment Canada forecasts a temperature of -15°C or colder, or a wind chill of -20°C or colder, for the City of Toronto. Extreme Cold Weather Alerts may also be issued when the forecast includes factors that increase the impact of cold weather on health. These include precipitation, low daytime temperatures, or several days and nights of cold weather in a row.
An Extreme Cold Weather Alert will trigger the provision of the following additional services:
- Winter respite drop-ins will operate 24/7 at all times, including non-extreme cold weather alert days, until April 15.
- Shelters are directed to relax service restrictions.
- Overnight street outreach and transportation services are added. Focus is on informing clients about the danger of weather conditions, urging them to come inside, and transporting them to indoor locations.
- More than 100 organizations and agencies that work with homeless people are advised to prepare for increased service demands.
- Transit tokens are made available at 18 drop-ins so that people can reach shelters.
- 21 additional cold weather spaces are made available.
– 30 –
Media contact: Pat Anderson, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, 416-397-4328, Patricia.Anderson@toronto.ca