Today, the City of Toronto released its 2023/24 Winter Services Plan, outlining how it will support those experiencing homelessness during the winter months including expanding capacity in shelters, activating four Warming Centres and opening a 24-hour respite site. Through these measures – plus new homes available for occupancy through the winter – more than 650 spaces will be created.
Details of the City’s Winter Services Plan are outlined in the “Shelter System Pressures and Responses, including Planning for Winter 2023/2024” report being discussed at the Economic and Community Development Committee on October 24.
The City implements its Winter Services Plan annually from November 15 to April 15 to help protect residents from cold weather conditions by providing expanded services and additional warm indoor spaces for people experiencing homelessness.
The 2023/24 Winter Services Plan will include:
While additional shelter space, expanded Warming Centre operations and new permanent housing ready for occupancy will help many in need this winter, the City acknowledges that it may not be sufficient to address the increasing demand for shelter and housing. The City urgently requires immediate support from other orders of government to address mounting capacity pressures on the shelter system.
As of October 2023, the City is sheltering 10,700 people with approximately 9,000 people in the shelter system and 1,700 people outside the shelter system in bridging hotels and programs supported by the Canadian Red Cross. Despite adding more than 1,100 shelter spaces last year, the system is at capacity most nights and on average, approximately 275 people are unmatched for shelter every night. The City expects demand to continue to rise throughout the winter season for many reasons including insufficient affordable housing supply, increasing living costs, inadequate wage and income supports and an increasing number of refugee claimants and asylum seekers arriving in the city.
Preparation for winter 2023/2024 began at the end of the last winter season in April 2023 and included identifying and securing Warming Centre locations and/or 24-hour respite sites as well as incorporating feedback to improve planning and coordination for this season.
An integral component of this year’s plan is the activation of four Warming Centres across the city at the following locations:
Warming Centres give those who are vulnerable and may be experiencing homelessness a safe indoor and warm place to rest and access snacks, washroom facilities and referrals to emergency shelters where they can access housing workers and other wraparound supports.
Earlier this year, Toronto City Council approved changes to Warming Centre operations for the 2023-2024 winter season. This winter, Warming Centres will open when temperatures reach minus five degrees Celsius or colder and/or when Environment and Climate Change Canada issues a winter weather event warning. With these new activation criteria, it is anticipated that Warming Centres will be open more days throughout the winter and remain open for longer periods than in previous years. Members of the public can sign up to be notified when Warming Centres open and close by visiting the City’s Warming Centre website.
The emergency shelter system is essential in responding to the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness. However, the solution to ending chronic homelessness is accessing supportive housing, which provides a combination of deeply affordable homes and a range of support services to help people live independently and with dignity.
During the 2023-2024 winter season, up to 275 supportive homes are expected to become available to move people experiencing homelessness from shelter into permanent housing.
The HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan targets the approval of 47,500 new affordable rental homes, including 18,000 supportive homes with approximately 6,500 rent-geared-to-income homes by 2030. Additional funding from the Federal and Provincial Governments is needed to meet these targets and respond to Toronto’s housing and homelessness crisis.
The City has been meeting with the Federal Government for more than a year during which time it has stressed the need for both urgent funding and a coordinated regional response to homelessness and the continuing increase of new refugee claimant and asylum seeker arrivals.
A City staff report, approved by City Council on September 6, provided options for supporting refugee claimants that could be funded and implemented immediately by the Federal Government. The options are clear actions such as reinstating or topping up existing housing funding programs, securing hotel spaces, setting up a welcome centre with the Canadian Red Cross, and operating all-season mobile health units. The “Immediate Federal Government Support Required for Refugee Claimants in Toronto” report is available online.
Another related staff report to be considered at the Economic and Community Development Committee on October 24 is titled “The 2024-2033 Homelessness Services Capital Infrastructure Strategy (HSCIS)”. The report provides a long-term strategy that aims to improve shelter system stability and recovery, achieve cost savings, and be more responsive to the needs of people experiencing homelessness. The report is available on the City’s website.
“Today, with the release of the 2023/24 Winter Services Plan, I commend the efforts of city staff who have worked diligently to secure critical resources and support for people experiencing homelessness this winter season. Despite creating more than 650 spaces, we know there will be significant challenges in the coming months as we face an unprecedented and increasing demand for shelter and housing in our city. We continue to call on the Federal and Provincial Governments to step up with funding and support so that we can provide vital services to all who need it.”
– Mayor Olivia Chow
“As cold winter weather approaches, I want to thank the City of Toronto staff for their work developing this year’s Winter Services Plan for people in our city who are experiencing homelessness. While we remain committed to providing shelter and housing support for our city’s most vulnerable residents, our capacity to provide expanded services at this time may not be sufficient to meet the growing demand. That’s why it is critical that we plan ahead with proactive work to invest in and expand our permanent shelter system through the development of a new capital infrastructure strategy. It’s also clear that we desperately need the support of other levels of government to ensure that no one in Toronto faces the cold without a warm, safe place to go. All partners must be at the table to deliver the shelter and housing solutions that our City needs.”
– Councillor Alejandra Bravo (Davenport), Chair of the Economic and Community Development Committee
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