News Release
September 4, 2020

September 4, 2020

City of Toronto to require shelter system clients to wear masks

The City of Toronto’s Shelter Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) Division is moving to make the wearing of masks or other face coverings by clients mandatory in indoor common areas of shelters. This follows discussion about the change with the City’s partners across the homelessness services sector. As part of the City’s COVID-19 Resurgence Plan, review and enhancement of all Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) measures is ongoing to ensure continued protection of vulnerable residents.

Currently, clients in City shelters are not required to wear masks or other face coverings under municipal bylaw 541-2020, as shelters are people’s residences and not public spaces.

As part of Toronto’s response to COVID-19, in June the City enacted bylaw 541-2020, which requires all members of the public to wear masks or other face coverings when in enclosed or indoor public spaces. Shelters and respite services and other indoor congregate living settings are not considered enclosed/indoor public spaces under this bylaw.

However, shelter and respite staff and essential visitors are required to wear medical masks in the workplace for the duration of their shifts or visits.

This policy will be in place at all shelter locations by the end of September. SSHA will issue a directive to providers next week and there will be a transition period for compliance. Over the coming weeks, providers will obtain required supplies, communicate the new approach across their more than 100 sites, and share information as well as provide direction to their staff about the new guidelines.

Until the change takes effect, shelters and respite service settings will continue to encourage mask use by clients while in common spaces. The City will work with community partner providers to ensure they are able to procure required supplies of masks or face coverings and provide financial support as needed.

In requiring shelter and respite clients to use masks, the City will work with frontline service providers to ensure effective implementation of this change including:

• Providing education to clients about the safe use, limitations, donning and doffing, and proper care (e.g., cleaning) of non-medical masks.

• Reminding clients that masks should be changed if visibly soiled, damp, or damaged.

• Considering the safety of resident groups with respect to populations that are not recommended to use masks.

• Considering mitigating any possible physical and psychological injuries that may inadvertently be caused by wearing a face covering (e.g., interfering with the ability to see or speak clearly, or becoming accidentally lodged in equipment the wearer is operating).

Masks may not be tolerated by everyone based on accessibility needs, underlying health conditions, or beliefs.

• Continuing to require clients to maintain physical distancing and perform regular hand hygiene, as the use of face masks or face coverings does not remove this need.



“During the course of the pandemic, the City has been successful in working with a broad range of stakeholders to address and minimize the spread of COVID-19 in the shelter system. The requirement for shelter clients to wear masks in the shelters’ common areas is just one more measure that we can take to protect people experiencing homelessness that also helps to protect everyone in Toronto.  We continue to work with sector stakeholders on permanent housing solutions that protect the health and wellbeing of this vulnerable population.”

– Toronto Mayor John Tory


“During the first wave of COVID-19, the City and its shelter system partners have been learning and working together to address changing needs during the pandemic. Masks for shelter clients is another important step that will help save lives.”

– Councillor Michael Thompson, Chair, Economic and Community Development Committee and Councillor, Ward 21 (Scarborough Centre)


“In moving to mandatory use of masks by clients in the shelter system, we continue to be vigilant in our emergency response to protect people experiencing homelessness, who are at higher risk of COVID-19 related harms.”

– 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 Relations