Remarks from Gord Tanner, General Manager, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration
Monday, November 7, 2022
Today, the City of Toronto is sharing its 2022/23 Winter Services Plan.
This plan is designed to ensure warm and welcoming places are available for those who are vulnerable and may be experiencing homelessness during the upcoming winter months.
Before I share the details of the plan, I first want to take a moment to thank all of the courageous people who work tirelessly across this city to support people experiencing homelessness – not just through the recent pandemic, but on an ongoing basis. This plan is possible because of the incredible and unwavering dedication of frontline staff and community partners alike who are passionate about delivering services and providing emergency shelter for over 8,200 people every day and night. These staff not only make essential shelter services possible, but provide street outreach services, peer supports, harm reduction and health services and while working with people to develop plans to secure permanent housing. I thank every person who works, volunteers or makes the time to share a caring moment or meal with those in need.
This year’s Winter Services Plan will make sure that additional warm and welcoming places are available for people in need to come in from the cold this winter. Specifically, by maintaining the use of temporary COVID shelter sites, expanding capacity in the base shelter system, and activating Warming Centres and enhanced street outreach services during periods of extreme cold weather.
Through these actions, the City will initially create more than 1,000 total spaces through expanded capacity in shelters, additional rooms in the refugee-specific system, and permanent affordable rental housing homes with supports.
The City will add approximately 230 spaces into the shelter system through expanding space and capacity at existing shelter sites along with 100 hotel rooms for singles and families within the refugee-specific shelter sector.
As well, to prepare for rising demand throughout the winter and as directed by City Council, the city will be introducing safe, moderate increases in capacity in the shelter system by decreasing the separation distance between beds. This moderate change will increase capacity by an estimated 500 beds.
The City gives careful and thoughtful consideration to these types of changes before implementing them. The City consulted with health experts and is following updated guidance from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, as well as feedback from Toronto Public Health.
As much as COVID-19 continues to be an ongoing public health concern, health experts agree that extreme cold weather presents an even greater risk to the health and wellness of those living outdoors.
The City will maintain its rigorous infection prevention and control measures in all funded shelters to protect the health and safety of staff and residents and mitigate the risks of infection within the shelter system.
All existing public health measures and directives will continue, including the mandatory use of masks and personal protective equipment, enhanced cleaning, and symptom screening and monitoring. Our quality assurance staff and third-party IPAC consultants continue to conduct staff training and site visits to ensure compliance with these measures. We also continue to work with our health partners to host onsite vaccination clinics across the shelter system.
In addition to adding capacity to the base shelter system, the City will also activate 60 spaces at Warming Centres during periods of extremely cold weather. These Warming Centres will provide a safe indoor and warm resting space, snacks, washroom facilities and referrals to available emergency shelters.
The Winter Services Plan may continue to evolve as we monitor demand for shelter and continue to search for appropriate new shelter capacity.
Our Streets to Homes outreach teams will continue to provide 24/7 support to people living outdoors on the street, in parks and ravines. During extreme cold weather alerts the number of teams will be enhanced to encourage those living outdoors to seek available indoor shelter. Throughout the winter, outreach staff also hand out blankets, sleeping bags and warm winter clothing.
Homelessness is a complex social issue. It requires a strong commitment from all orders of government, community agencies, and stakeholders to work together to provide funding along with public, social and health-related supports.
Additional funding is especially critical. As we know, the City is facing a significant budget deficit that is largely related to the cost of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. A significant portion of that response was allocated to providing emergency shelter and outreach services.
As noted, Toronto’s shelter system is currently accommodating more than 8,200 people nightly – more people than it ever has before – and 1,600 more people than this time last year.
This year, we are spending $647 million to provide emergency shelter and wrap-around supports for people experiencing homelessness.
Despite continually adding new beds, there is ever-increasing pressure on the shelter system, which is at capacity most nights. The reality is that simply adding additional beds to the system is a short-term emergency solution that is not sustainable.
The stresses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid poisoning crisis and the critical lack of substantive supportive and affordable housing all contribute to many people facing significant hardships, placing them in need of emergency shelter and support.
The national housing crisis, rising inflation and other economic challenges are adding to the pressures on the system. In Ontario there is also a lack of meaningful income supports such as Ontario Works benefit rates and Ontario Disability Support Program rates that continue to be too low to cover individual shelter and basic needs in Ontario and especially in Toronto.
As we emerge from pandemic restrictions, the need for shelter has only increased while the COVID funding from other orders of government has decreased or ended, including ongoing funding for temporary emergency shelters.
As noted in the update to the COVID-19 Shelter Transition and Relocation Plan shared in mid-October, the City took extraordinary steps to support the wellbeing of people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic by opening temporary emergency shelter sites to ensure physical distancing was provided throughout the shelter system. These initiatives saved lives and prevented further community spread of COVID-19.
There are currently 25 temporary shelter sites open across the city. One site will close in December and we are working with residents to develop individual relocation plans, which could include transition to permanent housing or a move to another shelter.
With this growing pressure across the shelter system throughout 2022, the City has seen significant and unprecedented financial impacts in the form of added costs and revenue losses as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shelter, Support and Housing Administration is projecting a net expenditure variance of $81.9 million by the end of 2022 primarily attributed to higher than planned expenditures for the COVID-19 response and lack on Federal funding to support the City’s response to the increasing number of refugee claimants arriving in Toronto
Currently, 27 per cent of people admitted to the shelter system are refugee claimants with an average of 60 to 90 new people accessing the shelter system each week.
Until there is a greater commitment by all orders government to help address the complex elements of Toronto’s homelessness issue, the City’s shelter system will continue to remain at capacity and under strain.
Despite this critical funding deficit, the City is committed to helping those in need and we are investing in solutions.
In 2021, the City expanded its response within the shelter system to the overdose crisis and high number of fatalities in shelters by establishing partnerships with community health and harm reduction partners and people with lived experience of homelessness and substance use to update harm reduction standards across the shelter system, and implement critical supports and services through the Integrated Prevention and Harm Reduction Initiative – or iPHARE – including opening onsite supervised consumption services, embedding harm reduction staff in 23 priority locations and expanding intensive mental health case management supports to 12 shelter hotels.
The City’s goal is to deliver person-centered, outcome-focused services to help improve the overall well-being of individuals experiencing homelessness and help them find and keep stable housing as quickly as possible.
The City has increased its funding to invest $32.9 million in Housing Access and Support Services and a separate funding stream allocated to Aboriginal Labour Force Development Circle for Indigenous led and serving organizations and projects. The $32.9 million represents an increase of approximately $8.8 million compared to the previous year.
We know that the best long-term solution to homelessness in Toronto is permanent affordable housing with supports, where positive change in Toronto’s housing landscape comes from a perspective of human rights and dignity, one that recognizes and values all Torontonians having a safe and affordable roof over their head. The goal is to ensure that equity in housing access is created with a high regard for human rights at the core.
The HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan provides a blueprint for this action across the full housing spectrum.
Between January 1 and September 30, 2022, a total of 2,965 individuals have moved from the shelter system to permanent housing.
Many people using the shelter system or living outdoors have complex needs. Staff give careful consideration when working with people to ensure the appropriate wraparound supports are provided throughout the processes of finding permanent housing.
The City anticipates that more than 400 new affordable homes with supports will be available for occupancy throughout the upcoming winter season. These homes will be prioritized for people experiencing homelessness who are staying in emergency shelters or living outdoors.
Toronto’s solution to homelessness must take an end-to-end approach. From the streets to permanent housing with shelters seen as a short-term emergency measure.
The City is committed to making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring; but it can’t do it alone.
That is why we continue to work closely with both the provincial and federal governments to stress the immediate, urgent need to secure ongoing funding for emergency shelters, long-term investment in supportive and affordable housing, and access to critical support programs that help prevent people from entering homelessness.
As we continue to grow as a city, all Torontonians have a role to play when it comes to solving homelessness. Through embracing new services and supports in neighbourhoods across Toronto and welcoming new supportive and affordable housing project to their communities.
We must all work together to be successful in ending homelessness in Toronto
Toronto is home to more than 2.9 million people whose diversity and experiences make this great city Canada’s leading economic engine and one of the world’s most diverse and livable cities. As the fourth largest city in North America, Toronto is a global leader in technology, finance, film, music, culture and innovation, and consistently places at the top of international rankings due to investments championed by its government, residents and businesses. For more information visit the City’s website or follow us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.