News Release
June 10, 2021

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Toronto has seen a dramatic increase in the number of people affected by the opioid poisoning epidemic.

To help save lives and reduce overdoses in the homeless population, the City is launching a comprehensive toolkit of harm reduction resources for shelters to provide expanded support for overdose prevention. The toolkit will help equip shelter operators, who have been at the frontline of the overdose crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic response, to implement life-saving measures and support Toronto residents who are affected by the opioid poisoning crisis.

The new toolkit significantly advances recent recommendations approved by the Toronto Board of Health at its November 16, 2020 meeting, and supports the City’s Integrated Prevention and Harm Reduction Initiative (iPHARE). It also expands on the City’s response to one of the recommendations from the 2018 Coroner’s Inquest into the overdose death of a shelter resident.

The toolkit includes:

  • the Guidance Document for Harm Reduction in Shelter and Hotel Sites: A 10-point plan, developed by Toronto Public Health
  • an updated harm reduction directive with new requirements for shelter providers, as part of the City’s Shelter Standards
  • a range of overdose prevention tools, training and resources to support shelter staff in the implementation of the guidance document and directive

The 10-point plan and directive align with recommendations that emerged from the Toronto Shelter-Hotel Overdose Action Task Force. The Task Force, comprising Toronto harm reduction experts with lived, frontline, and management experience, came together to rapidly address overdose preparedness in Toronto’s COVID-19 temporary shelter hotel sites.

The toolkit includes critical improvements to shelter standards, including new training, supplies, dedicated harm reduction workers, grief and loss support and safe spaces. The City’s is committed to ensuring that Toronto shelters remain safe and continue to receive the support they require to protect residents and staff.

In addition to the toolkit, the City is launching new overdose incident data on its website and through the open data portal. The data confirms that increasing numbers of people are experiencing non-fatal and fatal overdoses within shelter settings since the start of the pandemic, which aligns with the significant increases in overdoses in the broader community. This underscores the urgent need for the harm reduction resources included in the toolkit.

The launch of the toolkit supports iPHARE. Launched in December 2020, iPHARE provided $7.6 million to support a range of harm reduction programs in the shelter system. Since December, iPHARE’s approach has allowed the City’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration Division to establish three shelter-embedded supportive Urgent Public Health Needs Sites (UPHNS), also known as overdose prevention sites or supervised consumption services locations, with three more to follow shortly.

The complete toolkit is available here

Data on fatal and non-fatal overdoses in the shelter system can be found here

More information on the City’s overdose prevention and response can be found here

“The City of Toronto has a strong commitment to keeping our shelters safe during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Responding to the opioid epidemic is a key part of that commitment to safety. This toolkit will greatly advance our ability to ensure that people who need our shelters and the many wrap-around services that we provide will be well-supported. I appreciate the dedication and cooperation of the many people involved in developing this directive and the ways in which they have incorporated the input of people directly impacted by the opioid crisis.”
– Mayor John Tory

“The opioid crisis in Toronto has been devastating. It is essential that the City responds to it effectively, in ways that make a tangible difference in the lives of people at risk of overdose. The participation of experts, implementation staff and those most directly impacted by the opioid poisoning epidemic in developing this new toolkit will be the key to its long-term success.”

– Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson (Scarborough Centre)

“The overdose crisis in our city is a public health emergency. Public health recommendations and insight from people with lived experience must inform each step of our response, including ensuring that City services are safe and fully meet the support needs of people who use drugs. The new toolkit of harm reduction resources and directive will help support life-saving measures within our shelter system, and ensure that staff have the training and tools to support clients’ needs. This, along with continuing to expand harm reduction programs in the system though the iPHARE initiative, are important steps forward in our ongoing work to end the overdose crisis and save lives.”

– Councillor Joe Cressy, (Spadina-Fort York), Chair of the Toronto Board of Health

The City of Toronto is facing two significant public health challenges – the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid epidemic, both of which have claimed the lives of far too many Toronto residents. These resources represent transformational public health measures that appropriately address these potential comorbidities affecting Toronto residents and shelter staff. It is my firm belief that the City of Toronto will see a significant drop in fatalities due to overdoses as we implement this new directive.

– Dr. Eileen de Villa, Medical Officer of Health

“The impact of the opioid epidemic has been devastating for shelter residents and staff. This toolkit is a key part of equipping our City shelter partners and staff to respond to residents’ needs, prevent health emergencies and save lives. The input of experts, including those with lived experience of the opioid crisis, means that this toolkit is directly tailored to the needs of shelter residents and the staff who support them.”

– Mary Anne Bedard, General Manager, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration

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.

Media contact: Media Relations,