Today, Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie (Scarborough-Rouge Park) and Councillor Shelley Carroll (Don Valley North), Chair of the Economic and Community Development Committee, were joined by senior City of Toronto staff at Toronto City Hall to provide an update on shelter system capacity and services in Toronto. They urged other orders of government to create a fair, sustainable funding model to support people experiencing homelessness in Toronto, including refugee claimants in need of temporary accommodation.
The City has repeatedly asked federal and provincial government partners to collaborate on supporting asylum seekers – a responsibility under the Government of Canada’s mandate. Because other orders of government have not provided the crucial funding Toronto needs, the City is making difficult decisions in its continued response to the unprecedented demand for emergency shelter across the city.
Unprecedented demand for shelter in Toronto
Since 2016, the number of shelter spaces in Toronto has expanded by 125 per cent from approximately 4,000 to 9,000 spaces needed daily, and the City is providing more shelter beds per capita than any other municipality in Canada. 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 refugee claimants 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 the other orders of government.
Referring eligible asylum-seekers to federal programs
Toronto is a welcoming and inclusive city and offers numerous supports for the successful resettlement of refugee claimants looking to build new lives for themselves and their families. Over the past 20 months, the number of asylum seekers in Toronto’s shelter system has multiplied by more than 500 per cent, from a low of about 530 people per night in September 2021 to more than 2,800 in May 2023. The City has not seen a decrease in the arrival of asylum seekers to Toronto’s shelter system since the closure of Roxham Road in March. In fact, numbers have remained steady with between 300 to 400 arriving per month on average.
The City annually budgets for 500 shelter spaces for asylum seekers per night and any services beyond that require funds from the federal government. Accommodation for up to an additional 2,300 refugee claimants every night in Toronto’s shelter system is not currently funded, and the continued operations of these spaces are not sustainable for the City. The federal government is, however, following through on its responsibility to provide funds to other Canadian municipalities to address the surge of refugee-claimant arrivals in those jurisdictions.
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.
Changes to shelters and increasing capacity
In the face of mounting financial and occupancy pressures, the City continues to work proactively to explore all possible options for creating shelter spaces and opening new housing units.
Temporary sites at 60 York St. and 808 Mount Pleasant Rd. will be decommissioned on August 31, 2023, and approximately 350 residents will be impacted. The City is taking immediate steps to unlock approximately 400 shelter beds while leveraging upcoming permanent affordable and supportive housing opportunities for residents currently in those temporary shelters. City staff are working with all residents and service providers to develop permanent housing or relocation plans.
To create an additional 400 beds in the shelter system, the City will return to its pre-pandemic shelter bed spacing. A safe, gradual approach will be taken to implement this change, and the rigorous Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) and other public health measures implemented during the pandemic will remain in place.
The incidence of COVID-19 outbreaks in the shelter system has remained consistently low since the spring of 2022. City staff continue to actively consult with Toronto Public Health to support the health of people experiencing homelessness.
Financial pressures and shortfalls
The City is facing significant financial challenges. The Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) has a 2023 operating budget shortfall of $414 million.
Included in the shortfall is $97 million needed for the City’s ongoing, dedicated response to support asylum seekers accessing the shelter system – underscoring the need for a new framework that ensures Toronto and other municipalities are funded proportionately and have the financial means to provide much-needed services for this vulnerable population.
The City is committed to making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring – but it cannot continue addressing the issue to the current extent without balanced support from other orders of government. In May 2023, City Council voted to declare a homelessness emergency in Toronto and urged the provincial and federal governments to provide critical funding for shelter services and to invest in additional Canada-Ontario Housing Benefits, which are a proven, cost-effective way to assist people living in the shelter system and access permanent housing: https://secure.toronto.ca/council/agenda-item.do?item=2023.EC3.13.
“The current funding model for our emergency shelter services is not sustainable. In order to continue providing vital support for people experiencing homelessness, we need other orders of government to follow through on their commitments. The City has previously built strong and successful partnerships with the federal and provincial governments in the face of extraordinary challenges – and I know we can do it again.”
– Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie (Scarborough-Rouge Park)
“Federal funding is urgently needed to continue supporting refugee claimants and asylum seekers here in Toronto. The City is doing everything it can, but without Federal support we cannot adequately help these individuals and families build safer, more prosperous lives here in Canada. This is a shared responsibility, and we must work together to support those most in need.”
– Councillor Shelley Carroll (Don Valley North), Chair of the Economic and Community Development Committee
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