The City of Toronto provides temporary shelter and housing support services for people experiencing homelessness and those at risk of homelessness.
In May 2023, Toronto City Council declared a homelessness emergency in the City, joining other municipalities that have recently made similar declarations.
Annually, the City prepares a Winter Services Plan that outlines measures to ensure warm spaces are available for those experiencing homelessness during the winter season (November 15 to April 15).
Preparation for winter 2023/2024 began at the end of the last winter season in April 2023, which 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.
Since April, City staff have been working to identify locations for Warming Centres and/or 24-hour winter respite sites and to review available buildings, including City/agency-owned sites, private market spaces and community partner-owned and operated spaces. Approximately 130 properties have been assessed to date.
The City will expand shelter capacity at existing shelter sites, adding up to 180 spaces by reducing lateral bed separation to 0.75 metres.
The City will activate approximately 170 spaces at Warming Centres during periods of cold weather. The four Warming Centres are located at:
This winter, Warming Centres will open when temperatures reach minus five degrees Celsius 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 receive email notifications about the activation status of Warming Centres, including openings and closings, by visiting the City’s Warming Centres webpage: https://www.toronto.ca/community-people/housing-shelter/homeless-help/warming-centres-2/.
The City will also open a 24-hour winter respite site with capacity for 40 people. Unlike Warming Centres, which are activated when a specific temperature threshold is reached, the 24-hour winter respite will be open for the duration of the winter season.
The City has also identified one surge site to be activated when temperatures fall to minus 15 degrees Celsius or during extreme weather events such as freezing rain, snow squalls, winter storms, snowfall and/or blizzard warnings. This site does not have the capacity to activate space with the minus five degrees Celsius temperature threshold.
To support people during the coldest weather, Streets to Homes expands 24/7 street outreach services through the addition of one extra outreach team on the day and evening shifts and two extra teams on the overnight shift.
Throughout the winter, outreach teams provide blankets, sleeping bags and warm winter clothing to those living outdoors. During the coldest periods, outreach teams connect with people living outside and encourage them to come indoors.
The City is also partnering with the TTC to provide transportation between Warming Centres.
During the 2023-2024 winter season, up to 275 rental homes with supports will be 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 the housing and homelessness crisis in Toronto.
The City and its non-profit supportive housing partners take a housing first approach, based on evidence demonstrating that stable and affordable rental housing with supports is essential for individuals or families experiencing homelessness, and that their health and support needs can be more appropriately addressed once housing is secured.
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 has been meeting with the Federal Government for more than a year, stressing the need for both urgent funding as well as a coordinated regional response to homelessness and the continuing increase of new refugee claimant and asylum seeker arrivals. The City urgently requires immediate support from other orders of government to address mounting capacity pressures on the shelter system.
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.
Since the reopening of Canadian borders in September 2021, the number of refugee claimants in Toronto’s shelter system has increased from a low of 530 people per night to more than 3,700 people today. More than 40 per cent of the people using Toronto’s shelter system are refugee claimants. Of the 3,700 refugee claimants, approximately 1,700 are sheltered in programs that are not resourced to provide refugee-specific services and support.
Along with the increased demand for space, there is a visible increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness who are living outdoors, in encampments, and on the City’s transit system.
Data on the daily occupancy and capacity of Toronto’s shelter system can be found on the Daily Shelter and Overnight Service Usage webpage.
Provide temporary accommodation and related support services that assist people to move into housing. Emergency shelters can be accessed by any individual or family experiencing homelessness with or without a referral.
A homeless shelter program that provides required, specialized programming and can be accessed by eligible individuals and families experiencing homelessness by referral only.
Emergency overnight spaces offer a safe, warm indoor space and connections to other supports to meet the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness. Provided to respond to increased demand for homeless shelters and/or to prioritize ease of access for those who are vulnerable and may otherwise not access shelters. ‘Allied shelter services’ is also a broad term used to describe a range of services that includes but is not limited to 24-hour Respite Sites, 24-hour Women’s Drop-ins and Warming Centres.
Provides essential services to individuals experiencing homelessness in an environment that prioritizes ease of access to safe indoor space. Services provided include resting spaces, meals and service referrals. An allied shelter service that operates on a 24/7 basis.
Provide daytime locations that offer access to a range of services, which may include food, showers, laundry facilities, health services, information and referrals, and social and recreational activities. Services are provided in a welcoming, safe and non-stigmatizing environment. These operate year-round.
Provide immediate, safe indoor space for those who are vulnerable and may be experiencing homelessness during cold weather. Services vary depending on the facility but include, at a minimum, a safe indoor and warm resting space, snacks, washroom facilities and referrals to emergency shelter. An allied shelter service that operates on a 24/7 basis for the duration of the established activation criteria.
Services are targeted to engage people experiencing homelessness who are sleeping outdoors with a focus on establishing supportive relationships as a first step to addressing their immediate health and safety needs as well as providing support to move into housing and follow-up support. These operate year-round throughout the city as part of the Streets to Homes Program.
Individuals experiencing homelessness can access 129 Peter St. 24/7 to access services such as laundry, showers, washrooms, harm reduction supplies, snacks and access to a telephone. Those looking for shelter should call Central Intake at 416 338-4766.
Provides a 24/7 telephone-based service that offers referrals to emergency shelter programs and other overnight accommodations, as well as information about other housing stability services.
Toronto is home to more than three 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 climate action, 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.