The City of Toronto has released its yearly plan to keep people experiencing homelessness warm during the coming winter.
“We’re worried about their safety, we’re worried as the weather turns cold what could happen,” Mayor Olivia Chow said.
Every year, the city puts together its Winter Service Plan that describes clear steps to make sure people experiencing homelessness have a warm place to stay when the temperatures drop. This time the services run from Nov. 15, 2023 to April 15, 2024.
The plan includes the addition of 180 spaces in shelters, a 24-hour respite site with a limited capacity of up to 40 people, 170 spaces for warming centres, 275 supportive housing opportunities, and an increased outreach on the streets when the temperatures drop to -15C to encourage people to come indoors.
Permanent shelter system needs expansion
The city acknowledges these measures may not be enough to address the increasing demand for shelter and housing, according to a recent news release.
“While we remain committed to providing shelter and housing support for our city’s most vulnerable residents, our capacity to provide expanded services at this time may not be sufficient to meet the growing demand,” said Alejandro Bravo, chair of the economic and community development committee. “That’s why it is critical that we plan ahead with proactive work to invest in and expand our permanent shelter system through the development of a new capital infrastructure strategy.”
In May 2023, the City of Toronto declared homelessness a significant emergency that needs to be addressed with the approaching winter weather.
Data from Statistics Canada shows Toronto has the highest number of homeless people in the country and, on any given night, between 25,000 and 35,000 people experience homelessness. Since October 2023, the City of Toronto is sheltering 10,700 people within and outside the shelter system.
The new plan reports that four new warming stations have been added this year. including the following:
- 136 Spadina Rd.
- 75 Elizabeth St.
- 15 Olive Ave.
- 885 Scarborough Golf Club Rd.
Demographics show about 30 per cent of homeless people in Toronto are from Indigenous communities, 20 per cent are age 13 to 24, and 62 per cent are males.
Rise in encampments
Elizabeth, an advocate for the homeless population for more than 20 years argued this plan of temporarily housing some people during the winter is not enough, and a more sustainable and long-term solution is needed.
“Every year this plan is a start but what are we going to do to make this more permanent and sustainable in the long term?” she asked. “We have some of the largest numbers of unhoused people. Many of these people are facing health concerns such as addiction, mental illness, and lack of access to health care. In the last couple of years we have seen a rise in the number of encampments and Allen’s garden is a great example. “
The city needs to do more to do better, she said.