The homeless population is particularly vulnerable to the virus due to crowding in the shelter system and underlying conditions that range from mental health problems to addiction issues and chronic heart and lung problems. In addition, the closure of, or restricted access to, many businesses and services has left them without places to eat, use the bathroom, and wash their hands.
City Services & Facilities
- Central telephone intake services by the Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre (SHARC) continue. Access to emergency shelter is available by calling Central Intake at 416 338 4766 / 1 877 338 3398. (As of March 18, in-person intake on Peter Street was suspended.)
- All City-operated shelters, respites and 24-hour women’s drop-ins remain open, and support activities continue. Streets to Homes outreach is ongoing.
- Dixon Hall is operating the only remaining Out of the Cold program, with 45 beds. If required, the City will activate Metro Hall during an Extreme Cold Weather Alert.
- Shelter referral for individuals arriving from outside of Canada will occur once individuals pass the 14-day isolation period and exhibit no symptoms.
- The City has stated that there will be no encampment evictions. Street outreach teams are focussed on the safety of those in encampments.
- 6 portable washroom and handwashing stations have been set up (in Alexandra Park, Moss Park, Regent Park, Jimmy Simpson Park, Sunnyside, and Little Norway Park).
- The City has provided funding to 5 community partners that run overnight programs to stay open all day to provide daytime spaces for those experiencing homelessness.
Note: We're making an effort to report news here as we become aware of it and have the resources to update this page. If we're missing something, please let us know.
Here's our understanding of what's happening.
According to Toronto Public Health's latest posted data (links to Excel file), as of April 27 there were 213 cases at 14 different shelters and respite sites. The Homes First-operated Willowdale Welcome Centre for refugees has 149 positive cases.
Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) staff have created additional spaces to allow more social distancing in shelters, 24-hour respites, and 24-hour drop-ins through a combination of hotels, community spaces and vacant apartments. As of April 29,
- 11 new facilities have opened (including seven community centres) with 492 spaces
- 1,020 hotel rooms, across 11 hotels, have been secured, and the City has identified 15 additional locations (hotels, motels or private highrise buildings) for future use
- 1,355 clients have been safely relocated (as of April 27), and additional clients will be moved over the next week
That still leaves approximately 5,000 to 6,000 homeless individuals in congregate living conditions (in the shelter system or outdoor encampments).
On April 30:
- The City posted a notice in George Hislop Park (95 Charles Street East) warning those camped there to vacate by 8am on May 4. While there is still an "overall moratorium" on encampment clearing, the City has amended this policy to clear specific encampments on public property that have been deemed unsafe. Streets to Homes outreach teams will first approach people sleeping on these sites to offer indoor accommodation in the interim housing program, the shelter system, or hotels.
- City Council voted to move forward with its Toronto Modular Housing Initiative on two City-owned sites. The project will see 110 new homes ready by September 2020, and another 140 by April 2021. The sites will provide stable, affordable housing and support services to individuals experiencing homelessness.
View details on the proposed implementation plan here.
On April 29, the City announced it has leased (from a local developer) two connected, vacant, mid-rise apartment buildings in Midtown with 125 units to house people currently sleeping in outdoor encampments. The site will provide furnished units, 24-hour staffing, harm reduction supports, meals, and case management focused on long-term housing.
People in encampments that present health and safety concerns and who are identified as chronically homeless and at higher risk to COVID-19 related harms will be prioritized. The City’s Streets to Homes outreach team, working with community partners, will approach individuals and couples who are sleeping outdoors and work with those who want to move into these units. This new service will not eliminate encampments — the moratorium on encampment clearing remains.
On April 25, the Toronto Star reported that a 200-bed recovery site opened in a 12th hotel in Toronto’s west end in mid-April. In the previous week there had been 105 residents, and an additional 16 had recovered and been discharged. Patients are sent here from testing centres and hospital emergency departments and from an isolation site in Scarborough (where homeless people are sent to await their COVID test results), with direction from an Inner City Health Associates (ICHA) physician. Once recovered, clients may go to one of the physically distancing hotels or to a Toronto Community Housing unit or a private market unit with the tenant possibly accessing a housing allowance.
The site is collaboration between ICHA, the University Health Network, the City’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre, and The Neighbourhood Group. Additional support is provided by Breakaway Addiction Services, LAMP Community Health Centre, and Toronto North Support Services. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontier Canada is providing expertise on project co-ordination and logistics in its first operation in Canada.
The Star reported that a second recovery site, in a downtown hotel, was slated to open in the coming days and would provide more than 250 beds.
On April 14, the City held a special press conference to provide an update on existing and forthcoming pandemic supports for individuals experiencing homelessness.
At that press conference:
- Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Eileen de Villa, could not confirm the number of shelter workers who had tested positive for COVID-19 (but Homes First had confirmed 16 staff cases across 3 of its sites).
- Bédard reported that more than 1,000 people had been moved from shelters to spaces including hotel rooms and community centres or rehoused in permanent housing (thanks to vacant Toronto Community Housing units), and that the City was on track to move another 1,000 by April 30.
- Responding to criticism that the relocation effort is not moving quickly enough, Bédard explained that in addition to the logistical challenges involved in moving hundreds of clients, the City is trying to balance the urgency of the situation with respect and dignity of clients. Moving just one person from what they may consider their "home" requires individual assessment, discussion, and consent, she said, and the City must also consider the level of support each needs to occupy a room alone (e.g., serious addictions or mental health needs may make this unsafe).
- Priority for moves is given to those at greatest risk from COVID-19, especially seniors. Bédard said partner agencies (not SHARC) are determining who should move sooner based on risk.
Cllr Joe Cressy, Chair of the Toronto Board of Health, has stated that the City's objective is "one person/family, one home." Cressy has also stated that spaces the City is leasing for homeless population contain purchase options so it can also look at long-term housing solutions for the homeless. Bédard confirmed on April 14 that the City plans to leverage its temporary investments to provide long-term affordable and supportive housing.
City of Toronto Resources for Partners
Note: Information changes quickly. The most up-to-date information and resources are shared on the City's website.
- Interim guidelines to respond to COVID-19
- FAQ for organizations serving the homeless population
- COVID-19 Protocol for Families with Children
- Checklist for Clients Referred for COVID Testing
- Arranging for Non-Emergency Transportation to COVID-19 assessment centres
- COVID-19 Referral Flow Chart
- COVID-19 Screening Tool for clients
- COVID-19 Screening Tool for staff and visitors
Other Homelessness Sector Resources
The Homelessness Learning Hub is sharing timely, relevant, and evidence-based information for the youth homelessness sector, and shows examples of what is being done in communities (e.g., case studies and how-tos). This page will continue to be updated.