Toronto’s shelter system has collapsed COVID is spreading quickly through the shelter system

For immediate release
January 7, 2022

The Shelter and Housing Justice Network (SHJN) which 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, now warns 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,” says Greg Cook of the SHJN Steering Committee.

“The current situation puts workers and unhoused residents in the position of deciding whether they can or should stay,” warns Beric German of the SHJN Steering Committee.

  • 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.
  • Vaccination rates remain much lower than the general population: only 75% of shelter residents have had a 1st dose, 63% a 2nd dose, and only 565 people have gotten a booster shot.
  • There are currently signs of staff shortages and burnout, a reliance on students and inadequately trained or prepared contract workers.
  • Encampment evictions continue.
  • As of January 6, 29 shelters were in outbreak, and we expect the numbers to grow.

The City is taking ineffective measures to protect this vulnerable population despite the science. COVID is airborne; the best protection is “staying at home”, using K/N95 masks, vaccination and boosters, testing, and isolation of people with symptoms.

The City of Toronto must call for external relief to support this humanitarian disaster in the 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.