On October 6, the City announced details of its 2020-21 winter service plan to ensure safe and welcoming places for people experiencing homelessness during the coming winter weather.
The winter plan is part of the City’s Interim Shelter Recovery and Infrastructure Implementation Plan, which specifies measures needed over the next 12 months to protect homeless clients and to continue to provide shelter services safely while COVID-19 is a concern.
The City of Toronto and its partners operate 75 base shelters and 24-hour respite sites. As part of the City’s response to COVID-19, the City has also opened more than 40 temporary facilities to achieve physical distancing in the shelter system and provide spaces for people to more indoors from encampments, 25 of which are currently operating.
The winter plan will provide approximately 560 additional spaces through a combination of shelter and 24-hour respite beds, hotel rooms and supporting housing units. The City will also continue to offer 200 beds that remain open from last year’s winter plan, and 221 spaces in existing 24-hour respite sites that remain open year-round.
In total, this winter, the shelter system will provide more than 6,700 spaces through the City’s base shelter system and approximately 560 new spaces.
Additional space will be activated at Warming Centres during Extreme Cold Weather Alerts (ECWA). The City’s Streets to Homes Program will also provide enhanced street outreach response to help support and encourage those living outside to come indoors
All services identified under the 2020-2021 winter plan have been considered from the lens of providing safer services during the pandemic.
Services will be available until April 15, 2021. Need for services will be monitored and adapted as required to respond to changing circumstances.
Shelter beds and 24-Hour Respite Sites
This is the fifth consecutive winter that the City has increased capacity of the shelter and 24-hour respite system.
New shelter and respite site spaces will be made available through:
In addition to the above, the City will provide 200 shelter system beds for single adults that were kept open and maintained from the 2019/2020 winter season. These beds, originally planned to close in April, were maintained to provide expanded response to the pandemic, if required.
Staff will continue to explore other opportunities that may arise. As with the COVID-19 response implemented to date, the winter services plan will continue to evolve and adapt to respond, as required.
Existing 24-Hour Respite Sites
The City will continue to provide spaces at 24-hour respite sites that operate year-round. The sites are operating at reduced capacities to meet physical distancing guidelines and are located at:
Respite sites are guided by Toronto’s 24-Hour Respite Standards and offer single adults and couples, along with their pets, a place to rest, have a meal and access service referrals. Respite sites prioritize ease of access to safe indoor space, especially to those who are vulnerable and who may not otherwise access shelters.
Shelter programs are guided by Toronto’s Shelter Standards and focus on getting people connected to the services they need to access permanent housing in the community.
How to access space
Access to 24-hour respite sites and shelters can be made by:
All shelters in Toronto work from a housing first model, with a priority to assist clients to secure permanent housing and provide support to help with the transition.
The winter plan will introduce approximately 220 new supportive housing units through:
Staff will also continue to explore other opportunities that may arise.
This work is part of the City’s ongoing efforts to help individuals experiencing homeless secure permanent housing. Since March 2020, the City has permanently housed more than 2,000 individuals experiencing homelessness. This represents an increase of 50% over this time last year.
Warming Centres during Extreme Cold Weather Alerts
In addition to core winter services, the City will activate four Warming Centres if an Extreme Cold Weather Alert (ECWA) is issued by Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health based on information from Environment and Climate Change Canada.
The Warming Centres will be in different areas of the city and will offer 150 spaces in total. This is the first year that the City has offered more than one Warming Centre, which will increase access to these services across Toronto.
Enhanced Street Outreach Response
The City’s Streets to Home program provides outreach to those living outdoors and in encampments 365 days a year, seven days a week. This includes:
During Extreme Cold Weather Alerts:
The City of Toronto has a comprehensive approach to providing outreach to those living outdoors and in encampments, with staff across multiple divisions attend encampment sites as required.
Outreach workers are familiar with encampments and the individuals in them conducting wellness checks and offering:
As more spaces open, clients are provided options to move inside and are supported to do so with their belongings. Abandoned belongings are then cleared and encampments sites are cleaned.
Since April, the City has successfully referred close to 890 individuals to safe spaces and cleared more than 60 encampments. The City’s Streets to Homes team and our partner agencies have secured permanent housing for at least 348 individuals who were sleeping outside.
Safety Measures during COVID-19
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City has implemented a number of measures to protect people in the shelter system that will be maintained throughout the winter. This includes:
In addition, in consultation with infection control experts, the City will be piloting the implementation of impermeable barriers between beds in congregate sleeping areas or double occupancy rooms, as a means to provide an additional measure of protection from the spread of COVID-19.
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