October 17, 2023

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.

Quick Facts

  • In the last two years, the City’s shelter system has served:
    • 18,500 unique people in 2021.
    • 20,700 unique people 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 forecasting to spend $741.5 million to provide emergency shelter and wrap-around support for people experiencing homelessness.
  • From January 1 to September 30, 2023, the City has supported:
    • 4,050 people to move from shelters into permanent housing.
    • 257 people living outside to move into permanent housing.
  • As of October 1, the City is sheltering 10,700 people:
    • Approximately 9,000 people are in the shelter system – 800 more than in November 2022 and 1,900 more than in November 2021.
    • Approximately 1,700 people outside the shelter system in bridging hotels and programs supported by the Canadian Red Cross.
  • As of September, approximately 275 people are unmatched for shelter every night.

City’s 2023/2024 Winter Services Plan

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 2023/2024 Winter Services Plan includes:

  • adding up to 180 spaces in the shelter system
  • opening a 24-hour respite site with capacity for approximately 40 people
  • activating 170 spaces via four Warming Centres
  • creating up to 275 housing opportunities through new supportive homes and available social housing units with supports
  • enhancing street outreach when temperatures reach minus 15 degrees Celsius to encourage  people to come indoors
  • opening additional surge spaces when temperatures reach minus 15 degrees Celsius

Maintaining and adding shelter spaces

The City will expand shelter capacity at existing shelter sites, adding up to 180 spaces by reducing lateral bed separation to 0.75 metres.

Warming Centres, 24-hour winter respite and surge capacity

The City will activate approximately 170 spaces at Warming Centres during periods of cold weather. The four Warming Centres are located at:

  • 136 Spadina Rd. (24 spaces)
  • 75 Elizabeth St. (64 spaces)
  • 12 Holmes Ave. (34 spaces)
  • 885 Scarborough Golf Club Rd. (48 spaces)

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:

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.

Enhanced Streets to Homes Outreach

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.

Supportive Housing and Housing with Supports

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.

Demand for shelter in Toronto

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.

Service types and definitions

Emergency shelters

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.

Transitional shelters

A homeless shelter program that provides required, specialized programming and can be accessed by eligible individuals and families experiencing homelessness by referral only.

Allied shelter services

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.

24-hour Respite Sites

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.

Drop-in services

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.

Warming Centres

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.

Street outreach services and the Streets to Homes (S2H) Program

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.

Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre (SHARC)

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.

Central Intake

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.

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