FACT: There are at least 1,539 more people who are homeless in Toronto than there are spaces in the shelter system.
There were at least 7,829 people “actively experiencing homelessness” in Toronto at the end of January, 2021,1 while the shelter system only has space for 6,290 people.2 This means there are at least 1,539 people in Toronto who don’t have housing and can’t access an indoor space where they can take shelter overnight. As there are at least 800 people living outside in encampments, many of whom would not be counted among those “actively experiencing homelessness,” this number is likely a severe undercount.3
FACT: The “safety” of spaces in the shelter system, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is not a given.
At the best of times, people can experience many threats to their safety inside the shelter system, including physical violence/assault, risk of contracting diseases, theft, sexual assault, risk of overdosing, and trauma.4 Given that COVID-19 outbreaks are on the rise in the shelter system5 and recent research has found that homeless people in Ontario are not only at high risk of contracting the virus, but also over five times more likely to die after contracting COVID-19,6 there are no data to support the claim that the shelter system is a “safe” indoor option for people who are homeless.
City Claim: Office of the Mayor’s response to a request to drop the injunction against Khaleel Seivwright, March 2, 2021.
- According to City data, 7,829 people are “people who have used the shelter system at least one time in the past three months and did not move to permanent housing.” The City clarifies that this figure does not include people sleeping outdoors who have not accessed the shelter system in the past 3 months or people using overnight homelessness services that are not funded by the City of Toronto. The City estimates that based on the most recent Street Needs Assessment, approximately 18 per cent of people experiencing absolute homelessness in Toronto are not reflected in this data. Source: City of Toronto. (March 2, 2021). Shelter System Flow Data. (Screenshot of site accessed March 2, 2021)
- This figure is based on data for February 28, 2021 and was calculated by adding current occupancy data with vacant room/bed data. To identify the capacity of vacant rooms, current occupancy averages were used: Vacant Family Shelter rooms were identified as having a capacity of 3 people per room, consistent with current average occupancy of Family Shelter rooms; vacant rooms in the COVID-19 Program were identified as having a capacity of 1 person per room, consistent with current average occupancy of COVID-19 Program rooms. Source: City of Toronto. (March 1, 2021). Daily Shelter Census. (Screenshots of site accessed on March 1, 2021: Page one, Page two.)
- The City defines those “actively experiencing homelessness” as “people who have used the shelter system at least one time in the past three months and did not move to permanent housing,” which will exclude many in encampments. City of Toronto. (March 2, 2021). Shelter System Flow Data; Factcheck Toronto (December 22, 2020). Claim: As of December 2, the City has identified 395 tents in 66 sites in parks across Toronto.
- See: Factcheck Toronto (December 22, 2020a). Claim: The safest place for anyone experiencing homelessness in Toronto is inside, in a shelter, hotel or, ultimately, housing, and that is why the City is focused on investing significant public funding on these services.
- Leung, Wency. (February 25, 2021). Advocates warn of potential crisis as Toronto’s shelter system faces rising COVID-19 cases. The Globe and Mail.
- Richard, L., Booth, R., Rayner, J., Clemens, K., Forchuk, C. and Shariff, S., (2021). Testing, infection and complication rates of COVID-19 among people with a recent history of homelessness in Ontario, Canada: a retrospective cohort study. CMAJ Open, 9(1), p. E1-E9.