A City of Toronto staff report going before the Economic and Community Development Committee on Wednesday, January 11 provides an update on the COVID-19 Shelter Transition and Relocation Plan and intended next steps for 2023.
In April 2022, City Council approved a phased, gradual transition from temporary COVID-19 emergency shelter sites. The report recommends the City continue this approach by requesting authorities to extend the majority of lease and licence agreements at temporary shelter sites until April 2024, along with ancillary services to support those programs.
The report also recommends using federal and provincial funds to continue work to establish the City’s dedicated refugee shelter system to respond to the growing number of refugee claimants and/or asylum seekers looking for emergency shelter. Currently refugees make up 30 per cent of the City’s shelter system clients.
In addition, the report recommends entering into agreements with other municipalities on a coordinated regional response for refugees and a request for adequate federal and provincial funds to support the anticipated continued large-scale arrival of refugees.
The City continues to experience an unprecedented demand for shelter space, due to a number of factors including insufficient affordable housing supply, increased housing costs, a volatile economy with high inflation, wages and income supports that are too low to address the cost of living in Toronto and across Ontario, and a growing number of refugees now that border restrictions have eased.
Toronto’s shelter system is at capacity most nights, providing shelter and wrap-around support to more than 8,800 people. Currently, there are 23 temporary shelter sites, which make up approximately 30 per cent of the total spaces in the City’s shelter system and provide safe shelter to approximately 3,000 people each night.
The staff report includes the potential closing of up to five temporary sites in 2023 based on the availability of sites to operate as shelters and the willingness of property owners to continue existing relationships. As sites are decommissioned, the City will work collaboratively with site operators and clients to develop relocation plans that match clients with permanent housing, as much as possible, or space in the shelter system that meets their individual needs.
Emergency responses to homelessness, including shelters, are essential to respond to the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness. However, the solution to ending chronic homelessness is creating more supportive housing, which provides a combination of deeply affordable homes and a range of support services to help people live independently and with dignity.
Since September 2020, when Council approved the 24-month COVID-19 Housing and Homelessness Recovery Response Plan (2021-2022), almost 3,600 new supportive and affordable housing opportunities have been secured.
In May 2022, Council approved a new 24-Month Housing Recovery and Resilience Plan (2023-2024), aimed at creating 4,000 additional affordable and supportive housing opportunities in 2023 and 2024 with the support of the federal and provincial governments.
In December, Council also approved the 2023 Housing Action Plan to build significantly more housing along all aspects of the housing spectrum including deeply affordable and supportive housing.
The City is committed to making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring – but it can’t do it alone. As the rate of those entering homelessness continues to increase, there remains a need for other orders of government to provide long-term funding for housing, refugee support and health services, including mental health and harm reduction supports, for people experiencing homelessness.
Investments in homelessness prevention and poverty reduction measures, such as increases to social assistance benefit rates and housing benefit allocations, are also needed to better respond to the actual cost of living in Toronto and prevent more households from falling into deep poverty and homelessness.
The COVID-19 Shelter Transition and Relocation Plan Update 2023 staff report is available on the City’s website.
Members of the public who wish to make their views known about this matter, can submit comments or request to speak before the Committee. The report is expected to go to Council during the February 7 to 9 meeting.
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