Correspondence to Mayor

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

Sent by email:

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.

• Shelters are full, staffing and supports are weakened and preparations for another COVID surge have proven inadequate. Shelters must be a place of refuge and safety for anyone in need and at this point they are not.
• The City is providing N95 masks ONLY to workers in shelters, not residents. This is discriminatory.
• The Recovery Isolation Hotel site, operated by ICHA, for people who are homeless and COVID+ve, was downsized from a capacity of 200 to 60 spaces and is full. The City has no plans to expand capacity. Instead, in December the City told shelters to plan to isolate people who were COVID positive in situ.
• Access to Rapid Tests and PCR testing remains challenging with symptomatic/exposed staff & clients turned away.
• Vaccination rates remain much lower than the general population: only 76% of shelter residents have had a 1st dose, 65% a 2nd dose, and only 13% have gotten a booster shot.
• There are currently signs of staff shortages and burnout, (the city predicts 60% of workers to be absent), reliance on students and inadequately trained or prepared contract workers.
• Encampment evictions continue, ignoring the fact that encampments are indicators of a risk response by homeless people to a dysfunctional shelter system.
• As of January 7, 34 shelters were in outbreak, and we believe the numbers are higher and will continue to rise.

It is evident the City is taking ineffective measures to protect this vulnerable population despite the science. COVID is airborne; the best protection as you yourself promote is to “stay at home”, use of high-quality masks such as K/N95s, vaccination and boosters, testing, and isolation of people with symptoms.

We urge you and City Council to call for external relief to support this humanitarian disaster in the city’s shelter system. This means calling on the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, and the federal government to assist. That relief must include support for staffing, PPE, additional recovery sites for isolation and emergency aid for rehousing.


Cathy Crowe, RN C.M.
On behalf of the SHJN Steering Committee

Councillor Joe Cressy
Dr. Eileen de Villa
Chief Matthew Pegg
City Manager Chris Murray