Fact Sheet
October 18, 2020

The City of Toronto provides temporary shelter and housing help services for people experiencing homeless and those at risk of homelessness. Toronto’s emergency shelter system is delivered through a network of City-owned and leased facilities in collaboration with community-based partner agencies.

Facts and figures

On average, over the past few years, the City’s shelter system has:

  • served more than 25,000 people annually
  • helped more than 8,000 people move to permanent housing each year

Current shelter system

Toronto’s shelter system provides more than 6,000 spaces to support the city’s homeless population.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the shelter system has changed dramatically. Closing of the borders has greatly reduced the arrival of refugees and asylum claimants in Toronto’s shelter system. This has allowed the City to convert some of its hotel rooms, typically held for families, into space for single individuals. Capacity in the shelter system for single individuals is currently higher than the same period last year.

The City has also opened more than 40 temporary shelter locations to create physical distancing in the shelter system and provide space for people to more indoors from encampments. Approximately 25 of these locations are currently active, providing close to 2,300 additional spaces. These spaces offset the reduction of 2,300 single shelter beds removed from the City’s base shelter program in order to create physical distancing at base shelter locations.

The current shelter system comprises:

  • 11 emergency shelter locations, City-run
  • 57 emergency shelter locations, agency-operated
  • seven 24-hr respite sites, agency-operated
  • two 24-hr women’s drop-ins
  • 24 COVID-19 response sites

The system is run by the City and 32 partner agencies.

Capacity as of September 15, 2020:

  • 2,279 single adult beds
  • Up to 2,040 beds for families in 510 rooms
  • 223 spaces available in 24-hour respite sites
  • 53 spaces in 24-hour women’s drop-ins
  • 2,171 spaces at temporary shelters designed to maintain physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic

Of the 6,766 shelter spaces:

  • 1,506 are in men sector programs
  • 769 are in women sector programs
  • 1,788 are in all-gender programs
  • 490 are in youth sector programs
  • 2,213 are in family sector programs

New capacity for winter 2020-2021

The winter plan will provide approximately 620 additional spaces through a combination of shelter and 24-hour respite beds, hotel rooms and supporting housing units.

The breakdown is as follows:

  • 100, 24-respite site spaces in the Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place
  • 210 beds in hotel/motel programs for families
  • 90 hotel beds as a 24/7 replacement for the Out of the Cold program
  • Approximately 220 supportive housing units, including two new modular housing sites

Access the backgrounder for more details on the winter services plan.

Services 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 that 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.

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.

Out of the Cold
Previously offered meals and overnight shelter during the winter to homeless individuals at different community locations. Given the program model, rotation of locations each night and use of volunteers, it is not feasible to operate during the pandemic within Ministry of Health guidelines for congregate settings. For winter 2020/2021, new hotel spaces have been created to replace the program. The rooms will be available 24/7 and run by Dixon Hall.

Street outreach services and the Streets to Homes (S2H) Program
Services 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 supports to move into housing and follow-up supports. Operate year-round throughout the city as part of the Streets to Homes Program.

Hotel/motel shelter program
Provides shelter beds through contracts with hotel/motel operators, which enables the City to expand and contract emergency shelter capacity in response to demand for services.

Drop-in services
Provides daytime locations that offer access to a range of services in a welcoming, safe and non-stigmatizing environment. During COVID-19, most drop-in programs remain open, although many have adjusted their services to accommodate physical distancing measures. For example, some are offering take away meals only, appointment-only service, and/or telephone and email outreach to vulnerable clients.

Warming centres
Provides immediate safe indoor space for people during extreme cold weather alerts.
Facilities vary, but often include City of Toronto buildings or community recreation centres. Services vary, depending on the facility, and may include at a minimum resting spaces, snacks and referrals to emergency shelter. An allied shelter service that operates on a 24/7 basis for the duration of an extreme cold weather alert.

Central Intake
Provides a 24/7 telephone-based service that offers referrals to emergency shelter programs and other overnight accommodation, as well as information about other housing stability services.

Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre (SHARC)
In-person intake and referrals typically offered at this location (129 Peter Street) are suspended during COVID-19. People looking for shelter are encouraged to call the City’s Central Intake. Transitional shelter space at this location remains open and is for Streets to Homes clients engaged in a housing plan.

Housing solutions

In 2019, City Council adopted the HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan, which provides a comprehensive blueprint to assist more than 341,000 people with a focus on creating permanent housing solutions. The Action Plan addresses the full continuum of housing from homelessness, social housing, rental housing, long-term care, and home ownership. It builds on the City’s historic partnership with the provincial and federal governments in addressing the housing needs of residents.

All shelters in Toronto work from a housing first model, with a priority to assist clients to secure permanent housing and provide support to help with transition. Since March 2020, the City has permanently housed more than 2,000 individuals experiencing homelessness through the Rapid Housing Initiative and with housing allowances. This represents an increase of 50 per cent over this time last year.

Service types and definitions

Housing supports
A wide variety of programs and services to support homeless persons moving into housing, as well as supports for people at risk of losing their housing. Examples of such programs range from rental subsidies, furniture banks and mental health services, to rent banks and tenant/landlord advocacy.

Rent Geared to Income
A housing subsidy or benefit to make rent affordable for households. This includes:

  • Subsidized housing: In most cases, the rent is set to 30 per cent of a household’s total monthly income before taxes and adjustments. Currently the number of people needing subsidized housing is greater than the number of units available. As a result, it can take years for an applicant to get housed. Access to Housing manages the waiting list for subsidized housing.
  • Housing allowance: A fixed-amount housing benefit provided directly to eligible households, usually in the private rental market. It is tied to the household, so it moves where the household moves. The benefit is intended to ease the household’s financial burden. Still, it may not completely cover the gap between affordable rent (defined as 30 per cent of gross household income) and the market rent.

Rapid Rehousing
A team that supports clients in all aspects of the move-in process, including reviewing leases, setting up apartments and establishing connection with on-going follow up supports. Shelter clients are matched with permanent rent geared to income housing. A standardized tool is then used to assess their support needs. Units are then set up with basic furnishings and City of Toronto housing workers assist with the move-in process.

Supportive housing
Potential option for people with special situations. This includes:

  • Housing supports administered by the City (more than 9,000 units) for people who have exited homelessness and have moved into housing. Supports can be provided in the private market or through non-profit housing providers and emphasize the provision and maintenance of stable housing and community integration.
  • The Access Point for people with mental illness and/or substance use issues, as well as those involved with the criminal justice system.
  • Centre for Independent Living for those with disabilities.
  • Developmental Services Ontario for those with developmental disabilities.

Transitional housing
Social housing provided for four years or less to people who need some structure, support and skill building as they move from homelessness to permanent housing.


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