Shelter System in Collapse: Toronto Residents Demand Action, Gather Supplies to Address Emergency

Press Release
Thursday, January 20, 2022
Time: 11:00 am
Location: Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre, 129 Peter St (at Richmond)

The City of Toronto shelter system is in collapse. It is often unable to accept new residents, or even answer the phone and the City is incapable of meeting the basic needs of unhoused people inside and outside of the shelter system.

There are 50 shelters currently in outbreak, unable to accept new residents. There have been 2,292 COVID cases in the shelter system, 20% of which have in the last two weeks. The system is also burdened with longstanding and unresolved systemic issues of violence, theft and discrimination, in addition to COVID-19 safety issues – making many people feel unsafe accessing shelter beds and staying outside instead. These people are often criminalized by the City. In 2021, 132 people died in the shelter system. There were 46 suspected or confirmed fatal overdoses in the shelter system in the first three quarters of 2021, the same as all of 2020 and 4.6 times higher than in 2019. There were 1,037 suspected non-fatal overdoses in the first three quarters of 2021. The collapse of the shelter system is systemic and requires multiple interventions to address.

The City tells housed people to isolate away from others if symptomatic; yet, it has adopted in situ recovery for shelter residents – even in congregate spaces. Recovery beds have been cut to 60. “Recovery beds are now only ‘accessible’ to the most vulnerable – but the site is consistently full so the there are no spaces available. Shelter residents are especially vulnerable to COVID. Forcing COVID positive people, particularly those who are symptomatic, to isolate in situ can be dangerous. The lack of recovery beds puts everyone at risk,” says Laura MacDonald, a registered nurse at Regent Park Community Health Centre. “At the same time, the lack of beds in the shelter system over all is a major health concern – especially in cold weather.”

Shelter, Housing Justice Network Steering Committee Member Lorraine Lam says, “the City says everything is fine – that it doesn’t need help. But the system has been in crisis for years. When it turns people away from shelters and stops answering the phone, when sick, COVID positive people are forced to sleep outside and others are left to recover in congregate settings, it is obvious everything isn’t fine. That is why we are calling on both levels of government, the United Nations, the Red Cross and other international humanitarian aid organizations for emergency assistance; it is also why we are calling on Toronto residents to donate survival supplies.” Lam continues: “We are calling on people who can, to donate items that include: tents, sleeping bags, winter clothing, masks, rapid tests and gift cards. The City has failed to meet the basic needs of its unhoused residents but the community is continuing to come together to support our neighbours.

Key Demands:

  1. Increase capacity of the COVID recovery program to at least 200 beds.
  2. Immediately incorporate 2,250 permanent, non-congregate shelter beds into the system.
  3. Repeal the ‘no camping’ bylaw.
  4. Extend shelter-hotel leases.
  5. Distribute at least 3,000 new housing allowances to unhoused people in 2022 and make them available to all unhoused people.
  6. Freeze all evictions with the powers of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.
  7. Broaden the emergency weather system to respond to real-world conditions (as per the Winter Plan).
  8. Expand overdose prevention, education, training, and response and implement the recommendations of the Toronto Shelter-Hotel Overdose Preparedness Assessment Project.
  9. Implement COVID-19 indoor air quality safety measures and ensure full transparency & public reporting about each shelter site.
  10. Implement all of the recommendations from the SHJN Winter Plan.

ALSO TAKE ACTION WITH OUR ELECTRONIC TOOL KIT.

Rally and Press Conference: The Shelter System is in Collapse, We Demand Action!

Thursday, January 20th
11:00 AM
129 Peter Street (at Richmond)
All welcome

Shelters are full. The City has stopped answering the phone or keeps people on hold for long periods when people try to call to access a shelter spot. COVID is sweeping through the system. Meanwhile, the City has cut recovery beds down to 60. COVID positive people who are sick and want a bed have been forced to sleep out in the cold. Multiple people die due to overdose each month. Encampment residents are criminalized.

We commend the City of Toronto for announcing its plan to distribute N95 masks to shelter residents and make rapid tests available. We are also glad to see emergency space opened in community centres. However, it will only be a small percentage of the more than 2,300 beds that are urgently needed. Further, congregate must only be an emergency measure on the way to opening more non-congregate beds – mats or cots on the floor are not real beds and COVID is airborne. Unfortunately, the shelter system is in such crisis that these measures are nowhere near enough.

Come out on Thursday and tell the City:

✓ Provide residents N95 masks – not just workers.
✓ Access to Rapid Tests.

  1. Increase capacity of the COVID recovery program to at least 200 beds.
  2. Immediately incorporate 2,250 permanent, non-congregate shelter beds into the system.
  3. Repeal the ‘no camping’ bylaw.
  4. Extend shelter-hotel leases.
  5. Distribute at least 3,000 new housing allowances to unhoused people in 2022 and make them available to all unhoused people.
  6. Freeze all evictions with the powers of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.
  7. Broaden the emergency weather system to respond to real world conditions (as per the Winter Plan).
  8. Expand overdose prevention, education, training, and response and implement the recommendations of the Toronto Shelter-Hotel Overdose Preparedness Assessment Project.
  9. Implement COVID-19 indoor air quality safety measures and ensure full transparency & public reporting about each shelter site.
  10. Implement all of the recommendations from the SHJN Winter Plan.

We are meeting at 129 Peter Street the Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre – because it the manifestation of the collapsed system. It used to be open 24 hours a day to for people to stay at as they waited for a bed. It is now closed to in person intake and referrals and open only in extreme cold weather.

Come listen to a panel of speakers talk about the crisis in the system and what needs to be done about it.

Please bring survival supplies if you can. These include: warm winter clothing, camping gear (tents, tarps, insulated sleeping pads, hunting pillows/seats), cell phones/phone cards, rapid COVID-19 test kits, aerosol protective masks (N95, KN95), coffee/food/grocery gift cards. Make sure all items are clean and in good condition.

Wear a mask, please socially distance, be COVID responsible, and dress warmly.

Also Take Action with our ELECTRONIC TOOL KIT.

image of poeple marching with a banner that reads Shelter and Housing Justice Network

Shelters are full. Open more warming centres!

The City’s Winter Plan is cruel and inadequate.

It was -20C this morning, people can’t access shelter beds and the warming centres weren’t open. Even with warming centres opening tonight, the City’s plan is wholly inadequate.

Last night, the adult emergency shelter system was at 97% capacity, and the family sector at 99% capacity and there were 29 shelters classified as being inactive COVID-19 outbreak. “Even though unhoused people are at increased weather-related risk of injury at this temperature and especially vulnerable to COVID-19, the City has not opened sufficient beds,” says Lorraine Lam of Shelter & Housing Justice Network (SHJN).

“There are about 375 fewer shelter spaces today than there were before the pandemic began – even with the 200 spaces from the City’s Winter Plan,” says A.J. Withers, lead author of SHJN’s  Emergency Winter and Shelter Support and Infrastructure Plan. They continue, “the City’s real winter plan is violent evictions, full shelters and dozens of people turned away every night. We told the City the shelters would be full and the system would be on the brink of collapse this winter that’s why we put together a real winter plan with real solutions.” Continue reading

Correspondence to Mayor

Mayor John Tory
City of Toronto
City Hall
100 Queen Street East

Sent by email: mayor_tory@toronto.ca

January 7, 2021

Dear Mayor Tory, We are writing to you with great urgency with respect to the state of the city and its unhoused residents in this pandemic.

The Shelter and Housing Justice Network (SHJN) is a network of homelessness and housing advocates, shelter providers, healthcare professionals, faith leaders, legal workers, and researchers who have come together to address the issue of homelessness in Canada on a local, provincial, and national level.

As you know, SHJN has issued numerous warnings, as early as October 12, 2021, in its Winter Plan and again on December 14 in response to the surge in homeless deaths.

The shelter system has collapsed. Continue reading