Claim: The City of Toronto continually provides safe, inside space to people living outside.

FACT: Every single night the City of Toronto leaves an average of 38 people who are trying to access a space in the shelter system without any inside space to go because there is no space available.

Between October 30, 2020 and February 28, 2021, at least 13,780 callers1 requesting a space in the shelter system via the City’s shelter system Central Intake line were told that there was no shelter space available – an average of 117 callers each day (1 call every 13 minutes). Callers (who are unhoused and often don’t have their own phones) are told to call back repeatedly until a bed becomes available. However, a total of 4,577 people requesting a space in the shelter system were still without an inside space to go at 4am – an average of 38 people each day. In January, 2021, the average number of people who were abandoned without a bed at 4am was even higher: 46 people a day. On four separate days in January, at least 90 people were still without a bed at 4am.2

The above graph shows the number of people who, at 4am each night, were still unable to access a space in the shelter system. At 4am, people still seeking shelter are cleared from the system for a new day to begin.
The above graph shows the number of calls made by individuals and couples trying to access shelter who were told when they called looking for a space that there were no spaces available in the shelter system for them.

FACT: The shelter system and the spaces offered are often inadequate, inappropriate, and/or inaccessible to the needs of people seeking shelter.

In addition to the callers told that there was no space available at the time of their call, between November 3, 2020 and February 28, 2021, there were 2,260 callers (individuals or couples) who phoned the Central Intake line, requested a shelter bed, and then declined the shelter bed that they were offered.3 Many spaces offered do not meet people’s needs in relation to distance, harm reduction services, safety, etc.4 An additional 3,646 calls were disconnected before being answered.5 Central Intake can keep people on hold for lengthy periods, which makes accessing shelter difficult for unhoused people who often have very limited telephone access.6

Notes:

City source: City of Toronto. (March 16, 2021). City of Toronto supporting people living in encampments with safe, supportive indoor space.

  1. The 13,780 calls to Central Intake represent both individuals and couples seeking shelter, so the number of people seeking shelter who were turned away could be much higher.
  2. Factcheck Toronto analyzed data obtained through the Municipal Protection of Privacy and Freedom of Information Act request to the City of Toronto (# 2020-01799) about its new method for collecting and coding Central Intake data. We received data covering the period of October 30, 2020 for service queue data or November 3, 2021 for wrap-up code data (when the City began collecting this data) and February 28, 2021. The data was provided to us through a partnership with the Environmental Justice and Sustainability Clinic at Osgoode Hall Law School.
  3. This does not include uncoded calls. There were, on average, 55 uncoded calls a day in February, 2021 (uncoded call data was not supplied for the other months). The average number of callers each day in February, 2021 who were told shelter was unavailable was 129. Accounting for couples and uncoded calls, the actual number of people represented by these calls is actually anywhere between 129 and 368 people. FOI # 2020-01799.
  4. Hatlem, Doug. (May 18, 2021). Toronto Drop-in Network Press Conference; Dodd, Z. Affidavit. Black et al. v. City of Toronto, 2020 ONSC 6398.
  5. FOI 2020-01799.
  6. Factcheck Toronto. (Dec. 22, 2020). “Claim: Central Intake is an important part…” Grant, M. (2020, December 7). Melody Grant, South Riverdale Community Health Centre; Howat, K. (2020, December 7). ​Toronto’s Economic and Community Development Committee meeting. EC18.6 Economic and Community Development Committee; Koyama, D. (2020, December 3). Communication from Danielle Koyama, Japanese Canadians for Social Justice. EC18.6 Economic and Community Development Committee

Claim: Central Intake is an important part of helping people find shelter on any given day. When someone calls requesting shelter, the City looks for all available space that fits a person’s needs. If there are no beds available at the time they call or the referral does not match the persons specific needs, the person will be asked to call back, or may be offered a call back, as a bed may become available later that day or night.

FACT: It is impractical, illogical and a significant barrier to require a population that often does not have access to (charged) phones to access shelter by phone. It is even more impractical, illogical, and a significant barrier to require a population that often doesn’t have access to (charged) phones to call back repeatedly and/or provide a phone number where they can be reached.

FACT: Because of technological and financial barriers that requiring a charged phone presents for people seeking shelter through Central Intake, many people rely on front-line workers to assist them in calling Central Intake in search of shelter.1

Front-line workers are only available during set hours and may not have somewhere for someone to wait while the worker makes repeated calls to Central Intake, particularly during COVID-19. During the evenings and on the weekends, it can be particularly difficult for people to access services that will help with both making calls and receiving a call if a bed becomes available. A call-back may seem simple but can require someone spending hours of their day in a health centre or agency (at least when there is space available and when there isn’t a pandemic restricting access to these spaces).

Notes:

City claim: City of Toronto Press Release, December 3, 2020.

  1. Grant, M. (2020, December 7). Melody Grant, South Riverdale Community Health Centre; Howat, K. (2020, December 7). ​Toronto’s Economic and Community Development Committee meeting. EC18.6 Economic and Community Development Committee; Koyama, D. (2020, December 3). Communication from Danielle Koyama, Japanese Canadians for Social Justice. EC18.6 Economic and Community Development Committee