What would a budget with a heart look like? Supports for unhoused individuals, preventing further homelessness, and tenant protection options

The police budget includes a $48 million increase using revenue from property taxes, while many essential and lifesaving services for unhoused individuals remain deeply underfunded. In addition, Toronto’s proven and effective programs to prevent evictions reach far too few people in a city with growing homelessness, and far too many tenants struggle to get their landlords to fix and maintain their properties, as required by law. 

In this second post in our series examining alternative ways to spend $48 million, we consider how reallocating these funds to homeless support, eviction prevention, and tenant protection programs could spread some much-needed love in this city — including in areas that are life-and-death situations.

Supports for unhoused individuals, preventing further homelessness, and tenant protection options — with an additional $48 million we could use:

  • $25 million for expanded shelter and support services for unhoused people, including warming centres operating 24/7 through the colder months;
  • $6 million for Toronto’s drop-in centres to support services and improve wages for critical frontline workers;
  • $6 million for the Eviction Prevention in the Community (EPIC) program to support an additional 3,435 households, for a total of 4,635 households supported;
  • $6 million for the Rent Bank grant program to support an additional 2,322 households, for a total of 4,722 households supported;
  • $5 million to more than double the RentSafeTO program budget, which would support a significant increase to the number of bylaw enforcement officers to respond to tenant complaints about maintenance issues, inspect more apartment buildings with the lowest evaluation scores, and ensure that landlords comply with building maintenance standards.

Growing Homelessness, Nowhere to Go

Twenty-two thousand people used emergency shelters and allied services in Toronto in 2022. In the past three months, more than 10,000 individuals were considered actively homeless, having used the shelter system and not moved into permanent housing. Still more are living in encampments in the city’s parks and sheltering in the transit system and hospital emergency rooms.

For too many, there is simply nowhere to go. It takes many years to reach the top of the waiting list for affordable and supportive housing. The City, and all orders of government, have a responsibility to work on two parallel paths to address this desperate situation: 1) invest in affordable and supportive housing that is deeply and permanently affordable and 2) provide services to prevent further homelessness and support unhoused individuals. 

Check out our affordable housing options post on how $48 million could advance the right to housing in Toronto. In this post, we focus on programs that provide supports for unhoused individuals, prevent further homelessness, and protect tenants.

Save Lives: Increase Support for Unhoused Individuals, Open 24-Hour/7-Day-a-Week Warming Centres

The city’s recent deep freeze with windchill temperatures dropping into the -30s attests to the importance of a warm and safe home and, at a minimum, access to shelter from the elements. But Toronto’s shelter system is full, with well over 100 people turned away each night. At the same time, the City is transitioning out of its shelter hotel program which was introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic. As well, the City’s 24-hour respite programs are also full. While the 2023 budget includes funding for 9,000 shelter beds, it’s simply not enough and lives will continue to be at stake unless we address this underfunding. 

Warming centres provide the most basic form of shelter from the elements. They offer a place for people who are unhoused or precariously housed to spend the night during inclement weather, providing resting spaces, snacks, access to washrooms, and referrals to emergency shelter (where available). They do not provide beds, warm meals, or any privacy and are often crowded and operating at capacity.

With last week’s addition of the Cecil Community Centre location, the City now has a total of four warming centres. The City’s warming centres are usually closed. They only open when Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health declares an Extreme Cold Weather Alert or related alert and do not open until 7 p.m. on the day that an alert is declared.¹ Space is limited with existing centres able to accommodate 195 people in total.² As well, centres are only located in downtown Toronto, Willowdale, and central Scarborough, presenting a barrier to access for people in other areas of the city. 

People experiencing homelessness, frontline service providers, and concerned community members regularly call on the City to open warming centres in response to harsh weather on the horizon. It is a constant struggle to have even these limited services available to people, despite lack of housing, lack of shelter, and the life-threatening conditions that cold, wet, and winter weather pose for unhoused people.³ 

In this year’s budget, communities are urging the Mayor and City Council to fund warming centres to operate 24/7 during the colder months, at a minimum, and open more centres to meet the need. 

At its meeting last month, the Toronto Board of Health joined this call, recommending that:

  1. City Council declare a public health crisis in the City of Toronto based on systemic failure of all three levels of government to provide adequate 24-hour, drop-in and respite indoor spaces, and call for the immediate provision of safe, accessible 24-hour respite spaces that are accessible through walk-in access.
  2. City Council direct the General Manager, Shelter Support and Housing Administration to provide 24/7 indoor warming locations until April 15, 2023, possibly including City of Toronto Warming Centres, and locations provided by community organizations, including faith-based groups, that would provide low-barrier, walk-in access to people in need of a safe place to spend the night.

These recommendations will be considered by City Council on February 7.

The Board also:

  1. Directed the Medical Officer of Health to establish a working table, including physicians, medical experts who work with people experiencing homelessness, and people with lived experience, to conduct a review of the intersection of health and homelessness, and provide the results of the review and any recommendations to the Medical Officer of Health, for a report back to the Board at the earliest opportunity.
  2. Requested the Medical Officer of Health to support the General Manager, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration in their review of all policies and procedures related to the opening and operations of Emergency Warming Centres as directed in Item 2023.EC1.9.

Last Friday, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a statement on “human rights and access to cold weather services.” In its statement, the Commission echoed “concerns raised by local public health units, health care workers, faith leaders and advocates about the significant lack of cold weather services in Toronto, and across the province, for people experiencing homelessness.” It urged government bodies including municipalities “to uphold the rights of people experiencing homelessness and adequately fund and provide enough indoor spaces around-the-clock for anyone seeking shelter, either in warming centres or in community spaces.” As the Commission makes clear, the failure to invest in these services is a matter of human rights and puts lives in jeopardy.

In the absence of sufficient affordable and supportive housing, it is imperative that the budget increase funding to support unhoused individuals. Of the $48 million increase⁴ to the police budget, $25 million could be reallocated to expand shelter and support services for unhoused individuals, including 24/7 warming centres operated, at a minimum, during the colder months. Rather than spending money policing and criminalizing homelessness, the Mayor and Council need to have a heart for unhoused people and fund these essential lifesaving services.

Drop-in Centres: A Lifeline for Toronto’s Unhoused Residents 

Toronto’s 50+ drop-in centres are the backbone of the homeless support and service sector. Throughout the pandemic, drop-ins remained accessible to support the most vulnerable people in our communities through a global health emergency. Workers kept going, at risk to their own health.

These nonprofit organizations work on a shoestring budget. Their staff, like many care workers, are too often undervalued, underpaid, and overworked.  These workers are predominantly Black, people of colour, women, and peers with lived experience of poverty and homelessness. 

Like the broader nonprofit sector, drop-ins are experiencing an HR crisis. Workers are burnt out, leaving the sector, and seeking alternative work with fair compensation. Compounding this issue, wage disparities exist between drop-in workers employed by nonprofits and those doing related work in the better funded public sector. It’s time to invest in the frontline workers who provide the essential support and care to residents who are experiencing homelessness and are underhoused.

An additional $6 million would help drop-ins to provide services and improve wages to attract and retain staff.

Invest in Eviction Prevention, Prevent Further Homelessness 

In Toronto, 40% of tenant households spend 30% or more of their income on shelter costs, an indicator of housing that is unaffordable. The high cost of rental housing is pushing more and more households to the brink. Programs to prevent eviction and homelessness are important ways to support tenants and avoid the considerable costs of addressing homelessness. It is penny wise and pound foolish to skimp on proven and effective methods that prevent evictions.

Fortunately, Toronto has two programs that do a stellar job in supporting tenants to maintain their housing in difficult circumstances. These programs need to be expanded to support more people.

The City’s Eviction Prevention in the Community (EPIC) program has a proven track record of helping renters maintain their housing and prevent eviction and homelessness. According to the City of Toronto, “Eviction prevention programs support tenants at risk of homelessness by providing immediate, short-term supports to sustain tenancies. These projects work directly with housing providers and any other service providers that may be engaged with the tenant, such as the Landlord and Tenant Board and income maintenance programs. Services are provided with a Housing First approach.”

The 2023 budget adds $1.048 million to the EPIC program for a total budget of $7.08 million to support 1,200 tenancies. City staff indicated that the increase of $1.048 million would support an additional 600 households, doubling the reach of the program.⁵ 

An additional $6 million would allow the EPIC program to assist 3,435 more households at risk of eviction, for a total of 4,635 households supported to maintain their housing.⁶

Similarly, the City’s Rent Bank grant program has helped many tenants to access and maintain their housing. According to the City of Toronto, “Toronto Rent Bank grants provide support to Toronto residents who are behind on their rent or need help with a rental deposit. A partnership between the City of Toronto, Neighbourhood Information Post, and Local Access Centres, Toronto Rent Bank grants ensure that low-income individuals and families are able to stay in their homes and avoid homelessness.” The City has made some important improvements to this program in recent years, converting it from a loan to a grant-based program and increasing the budget to help more individuals and families. 

But the 2023 budget adds no new funds for the program. The current budget is $6.2 million and is expected to assist 2,400 households this year. We know the need is far greater.

An additional $6 million would allow the Rent Bank grant program to assist 2,322 more households to access and maintain their housing, for a total of 4,722 households supported.⁷

Ramp Up Inspection and Enforcement to Get Landlords to Maintain their Apartment Buildings

The City’s RentSafeTO: Apartment Building Standards program was developed in response to the strong advocacy of tenants calling for action to get their landlords to fix maintenance problems, as required by law, like plumbing and electrical issues, water damage and leaks, heating problems, and pest problems. Tenants were frustrated with unresponsive landlords and the failure of the City to enforce apartment building standards.

According to the City, RentSafeTO, established in 2017, “works to ensure that owners and operators of apartment buildings meet building maintenance standards through initiatives like evaluations.” It is “a bylaw enforcement program that ensures apartment building owners and operators comply with building maintenance standards. The program applies to apartment buildings with three or more storeys and 10 or more units.” 

Six years since the program was introduced, tenants say there’s still a long way to go for full and effective implementation. Tenant complaints to the City’s RentSafeTO program regarding building maintenance problems have increased dramatically between 2020 and 2022, the most recent period where data is available. Complaints increased by 39% between 2020 and 2021 and another 17% between 2021 and 2022. Effective enforcement is required to ensure that apartment buildings are properly maintained for tenants, as the law requires. But the 2022 budget added only two new bylaw enforcement officer positions for the RentSafeTO program, and the 2023 budget includes no new positions. Tenants deserve better.

The 2023 budget for the RentSafeTO program is $3,729,543. An increase of $5 million would more than double the program, allowing for significant expansion in the number of bylaw enforcement officers to respond to growing tenant complaints, inspect more apartment buildings with the lowest evaluation scores, and ensure that landlords comply with building maintenance standards.

We need to show some love to Torontonians experiencing homelessness left out in the cold and struggling tenants across the city.

Next up … Council votes on the 24/7 warming centres motion at its February 7th meeting. We will report on the outcomes of this week’s Council meeting and continue our analysis of how $48 million could benefit Toronto residents through improvements to critical and underfunded programs and services.

Wondering how you can take action on these issues?


[1] According to the City of Toronto website: “The City of Toronto activates Warming Centres when an Extreme Cold Weather Alert is issued by the City’s Medical Officer of Health based on a forecast from Environment and Climate Change Canada of -15° C or colder, or a wind chill of -20° C or colder. Alerts may also be issued at warmer temperatures if the forecast includes one or more factors that increase the impact of cold weather on health. Examples include wind chill, low daytime temperatures and precipitation. Warming Centres open at 7 p.m. on the day an alert is issued and remain open until noon on the day an alert is terminated, unless otherwise noted. Warming Centres focus on getting and keeping vulnerable residents inside. Facilities provide: resting spaces, snacks, access to washroom facilities, referrals to emergency shelter." In January, during harsh weather, there was a strong public outcry regarding the City’s plan to keep warming centres closed until 7 p.m., which would have left unhoused people outside in life-threatening conditions for several hours. In response to the public outcry, the City opened warming centres earlier.

[2] Last week, the City added the Cecil Community Centre location as a fourth warming centre which increased the warming centre spaces to 142 in total for all four centres. On February 3, the City indicated that it increased spaces in the four warming centres from 142 to 195: https://twitter.com/cityoftoronto/status/1621540081545658371?s=61&t=wJb6fCmp_nGlykcbEUlj2w.

[3] Heat also poses a threat to the health of unhoused people. This is a significant issue with rising temperatures associated with the climate crisis. See: https://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/news_centre/ohrc-statement-human-rights-extreme-heat-waves-and-air-conditioning.

[4] The 2023 budget includes a gross increase of $68.2 million to the police budget, from all revenue sources including provincial grants. The net increase is $48 million using revenues from property taxes.

[5] The Housing Secretariat budget notes indicate that EPIC was on track to assist 681 household in 2022, exceeding the City’s target of 600.

[6] The 2023 budget includes an increase of $1.048 million for the EPIC program to assist an additional 600 households. During the Budget Committee meeting, City staff indicated that this funding increase would double the reach of the program. Based on this information, an additional $6 million would assist 3,435 households, for a total of 4,635 households (1,200 + 3,435).

[7] The 2023 budget includes $6.2 million for the Rent Bank grant program to assist 2,400 households. Based on these figures, an increase of $6 million would assist an additional 2,322 households, for a total of 4,722 households.

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