May 31, 2023

The City of Toronto is urging the other orders of government to create a fair, sustainable funding model to support people experiencing homelessness in Toronto, including refugee claimants and asylum seekers in need of temporary accommodation.

The City has repeatedly asked federal and provincial government partners to collaborate on supporting refugee claimants – a responsibility under the Government of Canada’s mandate. Because these requests have gone unmet, the City is making difficult decisions in its response to the unprecedented demand for emergency shelter across the city.

Quick Facts

  • The City’s shelter system served:
    • 16,300 unique people in 2016
    • 20,700 unique people in 2022 (approx. 27 per cent increase)
  • The City moved 4,385 people into permanent housing in 2022.
  • Toronto has the most shelter beds per capita (per 100,000) in Canada, 337 – which is 18 per cent more than the next municipality. Vancouver and Montreal follow with 286 and 173, respectively.
  • In 2023, the City is spending $707.9 million to provide emergency shelter and wrap-around support for people experiencing homelessness.

Unprecedented Demand for Shelter in Toronto

  • Despite adding more than 1,000 shelter spaces last year, the system remains at capacity most nights.
  • The increasing need for shelter services is 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 an increase of asylum seekers requesting emergency shelter now that pandemic-related border restrictions have eased.
  • As a result, the City has continually been required to do more than any other municipality in Canada to accommodate people in need of shelter during a time of significant budgetary pressures and without adequate funding from other levels of government.

Refugee Arrivals and Response

  • Refugee claimants in the City of Toronto shelter system – September 2021: 537
  • Refugee claimants in the City of Toronto shelter system – May 29, 2023: 2,900 (a 440 per cent increase from September 2021)
  • Total number of new refugee claimants admitted to the shelter since September 2021: 5,360
  • Funding requirement for the refugee response in 2023: $91.9 million
  • City commitment: Approximately $34 million to cover 500 beds
  • The City requires funding for all refugee claimants over the 500 that the City funds. Given current demand, this could require over $100 million in federal funding in 2023
  • There was a decrease in refugee arrivals to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, since September 2021, refugee occupancy in the shelter system has been increasing steadily, mainly driven by border reopening and resumption of international travel as COVID-19 restrictions have eased.
  • Despite the closure of Roxham Road, the number of asylum seekers arriving in the City of Toronto is steadily increasing. New asylum seekers to the City’s shelter system are currently averaging between 300 to 400 per month.
  • Data from Central Intake indicates that asylum seekers have been making up a growing portion of the unmatched demand for shelter, with specific spikes in July to August 2022, January 2023, and May 2023. Unmatched callers are currently at the highest level since tracking began in late 2020, including the highest-ever level of unmatched refugee callers.
  • Refugee claimant-serving programs are distinct, as they include wraparound supports specifically geared towards helping the refugee population and refugee claimants get established and build connections in the community.
  • In February 2023, City Council provided further direction to coordinate with other Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) municipalities on a regional response to support the arrival of refugees and asylum seekers.
  • The Government of Canada is following through on their responsibility to fund other Canadian municipalities (e.g. Niagara and Peel regions, etc.) to address the surge of refugee claimant arrivals in those jurisdictions. This is not the case in Toronto.
  • Without funding from the Government of Canada, the City will have to refer eligible asylum seekers to programs and services available to them through the federal government.
  • Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada holds leases and contracts with 24 hotels across Canada with a capacity of over 2,400 rooms and has contracts with service providers to provide temporary accommodation to asylum claimants until they secure private accommodation or while they await transfer to a provincial shelter. Of those numbers, 16 hotels in the Greater Montreal and surrounding area are in Quebec, with a capacity of over 1,700 rooms.

Shelter Transition and Relocation Plan

  • The City took extraordinary steps to support the well-being of people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic by opening temporary emergency shelter sites to ensure physical distancing was provided throughout the shelter system.
  • While a few sites were opened for very short periods at the beginning of the pandemic, longer lease and licensing agreements were established for 28 temporary sites, which provided shelter and wrap-around support to more than 3,700 people each night. These temporary sites were located in hotels, motels and other building types.
  • The sites were always intended to be temporary, and many property owners have indicated they wish to resume previous operations.
  • The COVID-19 Shelter Transition and Relocation Plan, approved by City Council in April 2022, recommended a thoughtful, phased approach to transition out of temporary shelter sites that considers the needs of service users and ensure adequate shelter capacity is maintained.
  • As of January 2023, 23 temporary shelter sites were remaining, which comprised approximately 30 per cent of total spaces in the City’s shelter system, providing shelter to approximately 3,000 people each night.
  • An update to the Shelter Transition and Relocation Plan was approved by Council in February 2023 and recommended continuing the phased approach outlined in the April report and requested authority to extend the leases at most temporary shelter sites until April 2024.
  • The report update also outlined the closure of up to five temporary shelter sites in 2023 based on the availability of sites to operate as shelters and the willingness of property owners to continue existing relationships. Three temporary hotel programs have closed: 56 Yonge St., 92 Peter St., and 376 Dundas St. E.
  • The Shelter Transition and Relocation Plan Update 2023 is at
  • As sites are decommissioned, the City works 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.

Temporary Shelter Site Closures – August 2023

  • 60 York St.
    • The temporary shelter at 60 York St. will close by August 31, 2023.
    • The property owner has confirmed they will resume hotel operations and will not be extending its lease with the City.
    • The site will close to new admissions on June 7, 2023 and residents will leave the location by August 15, 2023.
  • 808 Mt. Pleasant Rd.
    • The temporary shelter at 808 Mt. Pleasant Rd. will close by August 31, 2023.
    • The property owner has been unable to confirm a lease extension beyond August 2023 and has submitted a development application for the property.
    • The site will close to new admissions on June 16. Residents will leave the location by August 11.
  • Approximately 350 residents are affected by the shelter programs closing at 60 York St. and 808 Mt. Peasant Rd.

Temporary Shelter Site Closures – Housing and Relocation

  • The City will continue to work with the shelter providers and residents at each site to develop permanent housing plans in an effort to move as many shelter residents into housing as possible. This includes working with residents to identify the supports they may need to move into housing or another shelter site should the right housing option not be available.
  • City housing staff have been working with residents and staff at affected sites to support housing applications and needed documentation, and this work will continue.
  • There are a number of permanent affordable and supportive housing opportunities that will be tenanting leading up to the site closures in August that will be prioritized for residents at these sites.
  • For those not transitioning to housing, relocation plans will be developed to ensure all residents are moved to an appropriate shelter program and continue receiving support.

Increasing Shelter Capacity

  • In addition to the increasing demand for shelter spaces, the loss of spaces due to temporary site closures planned for 2023 will create additional pressure in the shelter system. While housing and relocation will offset some of this lost capacity, the City needs to take further measures to provide shelter and support to as many people as possible.
  • Given current financial and occupancy pressures, revising the lateral separation between shelter beds from the current 1.25 metres to the pre-COVID standard of 0.75 metres is the most viable solution to support the greatest number of people. The change will add up to 400 spaces to the shelter system.
  • The incidence of COVID-19 outbreaks in the shelter system has remained consistently low since the spring of 2022. In October 2022, the reduction in physical distancing requirements between beds from two metres to 1.25 metres did not lead to increased outbreaks in shelters and resulted in 600 more spaces.
  • Rigorous Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) and other public health measures throughout the shelter system have been an important factor in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and other common respiratory viruses in shelters – and will remain in place.
  • A safe, gradual approach will be taken to implement the latest physical distancing changes, and sites will be assessed on a case-by-case basis to ensure the availability of adequate resources and supports throughout the process.
  • Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) continues to actively consult with Toronto Public Health for health advice and guidance around IPAC practices and outbreak management and how best to support the health of people experiencing homelessness. SSHA will continue working with Practice Health Check, IPAC experts to support these measures.

Financial Pressures and Funding Needs

  • The Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) has a 2023 operating budget shortfall of $414 million:
    • $317 million due to a withdrawal of COVID-19 funding from other levels of government; and,
    • $97 million for the City’s Refugee Response Initiative.
  • The Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit Program (COHB), which is a portable housing benefit that can be used across the province, has proven to be a cost-effective and efficient way to assist people to leave the shelter system and access permanent housing.
  • In May 2023, City Council requested the federal and provincial governments to urgently provide a net new $20 million allocation of Canada-Ontario Housing Benefits (COHB) in 2023. This amount would help the City to move between 1,600 and 2,000 households out of the shelter system into permanent housing.
  • 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 combines deeply affordable homes and a range of support services to help people live independently and with dignity.
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