What is the City hiding?

Shelter system in collapse, City refuses to release information on extent of crisis

As the City of Toronto continues to turn people out into the cold during a deadly pandemic, it is also withholding information about the severity of the crisis. Advocates have requested specific data about how many people are denied access to shelter, and the City of Toronto has refused to provide it.

“The City says it wants to be partners with the community, it says that there are beds available, it says it doesn’t need help – I don’t see why they won’t provide information about how many people they are turning away unless these things aren’t true,” says Street Nurse and member of the Shelter and Housing Justice Network (SHJN) Steering Committee Cathy Crowe who contacted Shelter, Support and Housing Administration General Manager Gord Tanner requesting the data on Friday January 21th, 2022 and followed-up on Monday January 31st, 2022. She adds, “We know staff are very busy, but we are just talking about emailing an Excel sheet – it is far from onerous. It has been thirteen days and we still don’t have it; we have learned about several deaths outside of the shelter system since then.”

The advocates requested two sets of data for the last year: how many people are told there is nothing available immediately when they call (wrap-up code data) and how many people the City cannot find a bed for at all on a given day (service queue data). The only publicly available information is the Daily Shelter & Overnight Service Usage.

“What the City makes publicly available creates the illusion there is space in the shelter system when in fact people are being turned away. The question is: how many people are being denied shelter every night?” says Dr. A. J. Withers, homelessness researcher and  co-founder of FactCheck Toronto – the organization that analyzed and released the data demonstrating that from October 30, 2020 to February 28, 2021 at least 13,780 people were denied shelter at the time of call and 4,577 never got a bed. “We have some data from Saturday January 29, 2022: about 2.7 times more people were turned away when they called than the average night last winter. It seems clear that the City won’t make the data public because it is trying to keep the extent of the shelter crisis hidden, to conceal the fact that they have opened too few spaces, and that their refusal to implement the SHJN Winter Plan has led to disaster.”

Front-line worker and SHJN Steering Committee Member Lorraine Lam says, “People can’t get into the shelters. They are told there is nothing available when they call. No matter how hard I try, l can’t get people beds when I call – even with the few dozen extra spaces they added recently. Sometimes the best I can do is give someone a TTC token so they can stay warm on transit until it shuts down for the night.”

SHJN has recently called for 2,250 non-congregate shelter beds, an end to encampment evictions, intervention by international aid organizations, and community members to donate survival supplies.