Backgrounder
October 6, 2020

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:

  • 100 spaces in the Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place
  • 150 beds in hotel programs
  • 90 hotel beds operated by Dixon Hall as a 24/7 replacement for the Out of the Cold program (OOTC). OOTC previously offered meals and shelter to homeless individuals at community locations. Due to the program model, rotation of locations each night and use of volunteers, it is not feasible to operate during the pandemic within Ministry of Health guidelines for congregate settings. The new model will operate from a consistent service location, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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:

  • 25 Augusta Ave., operated by St. Felix Centre, 20 spaces
  • 705 Progress Ave., Unit 29, operated by Warden Woods, 43 spaces
  • 21 Park Rd., operated by Margaret’s, 25 spaces
  • 69 Fraser Ave. (part of the parking lot behind Lamport Stadium), operated by St. Felix, 45 spaces
  • 351 Lake Shore Blvd. E., operated by Dixon Hall, 43 spaces
  • 1A Strachan Ave., operated by Fred Victor, 45 spaces

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:

  • direct contact with a service provider
  • calling 311
  • calling Central Intake at 416-338-4766, 1-877-338-3398 toll-free

Supportive Housing

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:

  • 100 modular supportive homes: 56 studios by the end of November and 44 studios by the end of December
  • approximately 120 units for women at 389 Church Street by early December

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:

  • handing out water
  • providing health and harm reduction supplies
  • offering a range of services, including access to shelter or other transitional opportunities, help with accessing income, access to health care and developing a case plan to move into housing.

During Extreme Cold Weather Alerts:

  • Street outreach staff will hand out blankets and sleeping bags.
  • The City will dispatch an additional team for day and evening shifts and two additional overnight teams. This represents an increase from five to six teams during the day, three to four in the evening, and two to four teams overnight.
  • Three partner outreach agencies, NaMeRes, Albion and Agincourt, will provide enhanced outreach services extended to midnight.
  • The approach to outreach will shift from assisting with housing to focusing primarily
    on wellness checks and encouraging people staying outside to come indoors.

Encampment Response

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:

  • immediate access to shelter or other transitional opportunities
  • help with accessing income and health care
  • support to develop a case plan to move into housing.

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:

  • encouraging physical distancing in all areas of the shelter, including washrooms and dining and common areas
  • ensuring physical distancing of at least 2-metres laterally between beds in order to meet City shelter standards, which are based on Ministry of Health guidance for congregate living settings during the pandemic
  • ensuring the mandatory use of masks for staff throughout shifts and mandatory masks or face coverings for clients in all common areas
  • utilizing standard symptom screening at all points of entry into the shelter system and conducting active daily screening and monitoring of all clients and staff for symptoms of COVID-19
  • increasing infection control and prevention activities, including enhanced cleaning protocols
  • encouraging healthy habits such as hand washing and covering coughs or sneezing into an elbow or tissue
  • providing ongoing isolation and recovery sites with supports for clients who await test results or test positive to recover

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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