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Toronto's 2019-2020 winter plan for people experiencing homelessness includes specialized services, more spaces and service l


Thursday, November 7, 2019 12:00:00 PM

Homelessness is an extremely complex issue and the City of Toronto continues to experience unprecedented demand for emergency shelter. To ensure safe and welcoming places for people who need them during the coming winter weather, the City of Toronto is providing details about the 2019-20 winter services plan.

There are 7,105 spaces in the current shelter system in the City of Toronto.

In addition to the existing 24-hour respite sites with 414 spaces, the City is opening six new services, adding 485 spaces, for a total of 899 spaces available as part of the 2019-2020 winter services plan. This is an increase over the 805 spaces provided last winter, and significantly more service than 2014 when just two services were provided during Extreme Cold Weather Alerts only. A range of new services will be provided this year that are targeted to the specific needs of people experiencing homelessness.

One such new service is a temporary response site for refugees/asylum claimants that will open in the Yonge and Finch area on November 12. The site will offer spaces for up to 200 adults while freeing 200 beds across the City's shelter system for other individuals.

In this new service location, refugees/asylum claimants will be able to access overnight accommodation and specialized services. These supports will be made available through partnerships with community agencies as well as the City's Newcomer Office and other City divisions, as required. Homes First Society will operate the site. The building owner, Times Group Corporation, approached the City with an offer to lease the 7,400-square metre (80,000-square foot) property to help newcomers to Toronto.

In addition to the new centre for refugees, the winter services plan includes the following services that will be available until April 2020:
• a 50-space 24-hour respite site operated by St. Felix Centre at 25 Augusta Ave.
• 100 additional temporary winter beds at Seaton House, 339 George St.
• 50 additional temporary winter beds at 545 Lakeshore Blvd. operated by Homes First Society • 85 spaces for single adults in a hotel-based pre-housing program

Toronto’s shelter system has more than 7,100 beds across 63 permanent shelters and motel/hotel programs. Close to 2,400 beds in hotel-based programs are designated primarily to serve families. The City operates 10 shelters directly and provides funding to community agencies for the operation of the remaining 53 shelters. The City has added more than 2,500 shelter beds since 2015.

As of November 4, there were 6,603 adults, youth and children in Toronto’s shelter system and 612 people at respites and drop-ins. The winter services plan is informed by experience from previous winters and supported by previous recommendations from City Council and the City’s Ombudsman. This is the sixth consecutive winter that the City will increase overall capacity to ensure safe and welcoming places for people who need them. These services respond to increasing pressures from increasing arrivals of refugee/asylum claimants and individuals from neighbouring municipalities where there are fewer homelessness services available than in Toronto along with the increasing cost of housing.

24-hour respite sites
24-hour respite sites offer low-barrier service to single adults and couples, along with their pets as well as a place to rest, have a meal and access to service referrals. The 24-hour respite sites available this winter include:
• 25 Augusta Ave., operated by St. Felix Centre, capacity of 50 • 323 Dundas St. E., operated by Margaret's, capacity of 35 • 705 Progress Ave., Unit 29, operated by Warden Woods, capacity of 49 • 21 Park Rd., operated by Margaret’s, capacity of 30 • 69 Fraser Ave. (part of the parking lot behind Lamport Stadium), operated by St. Felix, capacity of 100 • 351 Lake Shore Blvd. E., operated by Dixon Hall, capacity of 100 • 1A Strachan Ave., operated by Fred Victor, capacity of 100

In addition, 16 Out of the Cold (OOTC) locations, delivered by inter-denominational faith-based volunteer groups, provide an average of 90 spaces each night.
Since 2018, City staff have made a number of improvements to provide better service at shelters and 24-hour respite sites, faster access to services, and stronger management of routine and unexpected events that have an impact on the shelter and respite system. The improvements include:
• Implementing 24-hour respite site standards, developed in consultation with operators and clients and for greater health, safety, and comfort. The standards are available at http://www.toronto.ca/community-people/community-partners/24-hour-respite-site-operators/24-hour-respite-site-standards/.
• An Engagement Coordinator at each respite site to improve community relations and improve client experience.
• Expanded Central Intake staff and improved technology to answer calls more efficiently, resulting in shorter wait times and more streamlined access to services.
• A 24/7 Duty Manager Office provides real time oversight and operational assistance to community and staff providers of service.

Extreme Cold Weather Alerts
In addition to these core winter services, City staff will make additional services available if an Extreme Cold Weather Alert (ECWA) is issued by Toronto's Medical Officer of Health. During an ECWA, Streets to Homes will increase its street outreach presence to 24/7 to connect with people living outside and encourage them to come indoors.

The Metro Hall Warming Centre will also open with 50 spaces, operated by City staff. During any extreme weather, shelters are encouraged to relax service restrictions for clients and accept people that turn up at their doors seeking warmth. Drop-in programs across the city provide TTC tokens to people in need of transportation.

Information about all services for people experiencing homelessness is available at http://www.toronto.ca/homelesshelp.

To access a shelter call 311 or Central Intake at 416-338-4766, 1-877-338-3398.

Residents should contact 311 if they see a homeless person in need of assistance and the City will dispatch an outreach team to investigate. If the person is in distress or needs immediate assistance, call 911.

Housing solutions
The City of Toronto, through the Housing Secretariat, is focused on long-term solutions like building new affordable and supportive housing. The City's new 10-year affordable housing plan will be released in December, which will provide a comprehensive solutions-based plan to address housing and homelessness challenges over the next decade. The City relies on its partners in the provincial and federal governments for funding for permanent housing solutions, as well as funding to provide supports for refugee claimants who arrive in Toronto.