Today will see a potentially record-breaking snowfall, bringing cold, winter weather that will negatively impact Toronto's most vulnerable. Tomorrow, a new centre in the Yonge-Finch area will open for homeless refugees and asylum seekers as part of the city's new 2019-2020 winter services plan for the homeless.
Last Wednesday, Toronto unveiled the plans for this site, which will have space for upwards of 200 adults, providing overnight accommodation and specialized services for the homeless. These services will be made through partnerships with community agencies, Toronto's Newcomer Office and city divisions. As well, the location will be operated by the Homes First Society, an organization that advocates to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness.
Once opened, this shelter will free up 200 spots in other overnight accommodations across the city. According to a press release, there are "7,105 spaces in the current shelter system in the City of Toronto." Overall, with the inclusion of the new shelter, Toronto is adding a total of 899 spaces for overnight stays. Last year, the city provided an additional 805 spaces, a significant increase from previous years, especially amidst Extreme Cold Weather Alerts.
"Homelessness is an extremely complex issue and the City of Toronto continues to experience unprecedented demand for emergency shelter," reads the press release.
Following the city's announcement, the provincial government stated it will pause efforts to measure homelessness, citing data gaps and other limitations.
In 2018, the former Liberal government launched this initiative as part of a broader strategy to eliminate homelessness in the province by 2025.
Senior advisor on housing and homelessness policy at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario Michael Jacek told the Canadian Press that data is used by communities across Ontario to develop local initiatives to address the issue. Furthermore, pausing the ability of municipalities to collect data can pose a major issue for them to continue their work.
“This is important data used for evidence-based decisions which inform homelessness prevention programming and housing,” Jacek said. “For many, this is an indispensable tool.”
Both these announcements also come around the time when video footage was shared on social media of shelter staff saying "We're at capacity," despite daily occupancy levels being listed at under 100 per cent.
City councillor Mike Layton told CBC News that he is confident in staff to record bed availability. "The temporary respites house about 300 people and more and more we're reaching and maintaining capacity in those buildings."
"Most of the respites were in fact at a capacity," Layton added. "The number of beds isn't everything. We also have got to look at what is the length of stay, what can we do to keep people from losing their housing and entering the shelter system."
As temperatures drop and weather conditions worsen, the city and province's initiatives to address homelessness will be tested.