Toronto’s 2020-2021 winter plan for people experiencing homelessness includes more spaces and enhanced street outreach

Homelessness is an extremely complex issue and the City of Toronto continues to experience significant demand for emergency shelter. To ensure safe and welcoming places for people who need them during the coming winter weather, the City is providing details about the 2020-21 winter services plan.

The winter plan is part of the City’s Interim Shelter Recovery and Infrastructure Implementation Plan released today, which specifies measures needed over the next 12 months to protect homeless clients and to continue to provide shelter services safely while COVID-19 is a concern.

The winter plan will provide approximately 560 new spaces between November and April through a combination of shelter beds, hotel programs and supportive housing units. This compares to 485 spaces offered through last year’s winter services plan.  Additional space will also be activated at Warming Centres during Extreme Cold Weather Alerts.

This will be the fifth consecutive year that the City has increased the number of spaces available throughout the winter season. Spaces will be made available through the following:

  • 100, 24-hour respite site spaces at the CNE, Better Living Centre
  • 150 beds in hotel programs
  • 90 hotel beds as a replacement for the Out of the Cold program

For many years the Out of the Cold program has offered meals and overnight shelter during the winter to homeless individuals at different community locations each night. As COVID-19 emerged, and given the program model, rotation of locations and use of volunteers, the program opted to close in March. It remains unfeasible to operate the program within Ministry of Health guidelines for congregate settings. The new program model, operated by Dixon Hall, will provide replacement shelter capacity 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the duration of the winter.

Capacity will also be created in the existing shelter system with the introduction of approximately 220 new supportive housing units, including two new modular housing sites. These units are a component of the City’s HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan, which targets approving 40,000 new affordable rental homes including 18,000 new supportive homes.

In addition to the above spaces, the City will continue to provide 200 shelter system beds for single adults that were kept open from the 2019/2020 winter season. These beds, originally planned to close in April, were maintained to provide expanded response to the pandemic, as required.

City staff will make additional services available if an Extreme Cold Weather Alert (ECWA) is issued by Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health based on information from Environment and Climate Change Canada.

The City will offer approximately 150 spaces at four Warming Centres located in different areas of the city. This is the first year that the City has offered more than one Warming Centre, which will increase access to these services across Toronto.

During an ECWA, the City’s Streets to Homes program will also increase its 24/7 mobile street outreach to connect with people living outside and encourage them to come indoors. Staff will also hand out blankets and sleeping bags.

All services identified under the 2020-2021 winter plan have been considered from the lens of providing safer services during the pandemic. In particular, in consultation with infection control experts, the City will be piloting the use of impermeable barriers between beds in congregate sleeping areas or double occupancy rooms in order to provide an additional measure of protection from the spread of COVID-19. These barriers will be implemented in addition to the two-metre lateral distancing between beds required by the current shelter standards directive.

Staff will also continue with ongoing COVID-19 protocols, which include encouraging physical distancing in all areas of the shelter, ensuring hand washing and mandatory use of masks for staff throughout shifts and for clients in all common areas, conducting symptom screening and monitoring of staff and clients, increasing infection control and prevention measures such as enhanced cleaning, and providing isolation and recovery sites for individuals that await results or test positive to recover.

The City remains focused on the safety of those in encampments and on moving clients sleeping outdoors into safe indoor spaces through shelter programs, hotel spaces and housing options with supports.

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 person experiencing homelessness 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.

More information:

Backgrounder: City of Toronto 2020-2021 winter plan for people experiencing homelessness: https://www.toronto.ca/news/city-of-toronto-2020-2021-winter-plan-for-people-experiencing-homelessness/

Quotes:

“We are doing everything we can as a City government to help our most vulnerable residents. The winter services plan will start earlier this year to ensure we have the space and resources we need to act quickly once the cold weather hits.”

– Toronto Mayor John Tory

“The City has been actively working on this plan for several months to ensure we are prepared to help the city’s most marginalized this winter. It will create more capacity in the shelter system in a safe and welcoming manner, and ensure we are positioned to encourage those living outdoors, including those living in encampment, to come inside.”

– Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson (Ward 21 Scarborough Centre), Chair of the Economic and Community Development Committee

“While the best solution to homelessness is permanent housing with supports, the winter plan will ensure we can continue to provide emergency services for those in immediate crisis and to protect people from both the risks of COVID-19 and cold weather.”

– Mary-Anne Bédard, General Manager, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, City of Toronto

“In the summer months, we worked with our partners in shelter services to develop plans to keep their staff and clients safer during the cold weather season. Public health guidance includes active screening, physical distancing, and requiring masks, to protect our city’s most vulnerable residents as we live with this virus.”

– Dr. Vinita Dubey, Associate Medical Officer of Health, Toronto Public Health

“People experiencing homelessness are at high risk for many health issues during the winter months, including the risk of becoming sick with COVID-19. The City’s plans for increasing shelter capacity this winter, paired with the necessary control measures to keep the COVID-19 virus from spreading, are important steps to help keep this vulnerable group safe.”

– Dr. Michael Gardam, Medical Director, Infection Prevention and Control, Women’s College Hospital