Claim: Over the last several weeks, the City’s winter services plan has also begun operations. Adding 620 additional spaces over the winter, this year’s plan offers more space than any other previous year and includes shelter space, hotel space and permanent housing.

FACT: Even with the inclusion of shelter space, hotel space and permanent housing, this winter the City is making 1,158 fewer shelter spaces available than last winter and 1,327 fewer spaces than they made available the winter before that. 

The shelter system, prior to the addition of additional spaces through the Winter Service Plan, could accommodate approximately 6,132 people.1 Permanent housing has never been included in shelter system capacity data or in winter shelter plans before. By including 220 permanent housing units in the 620 spaces the City says it is adding to the shelter system this winter, 2 the City is inflating and being misleading about the extent of their winter response. However, even when these permanent housing units are included, the Winter Service Plan’s 620 additional spaces only brings total winter capacity up to 6,752 people,3 which is: 

  • 1,158 fewer spaces than December 12th, 2019, when shelter capacity was 7,910 people; 4
  • 1,327 fewer spaces than December 10, 20185 (even before an additional 400 spaces were added later in the winter.6)
  • About the same number of spaces as were available January 24, 2018,7 after the City finally opened the Moss Park Armoury following more than a year of public pressure by activists demanding more space be made available to accommodate the many people who were unable to access adequate shelter.

In the middle of a pandemic, with an eviction crisis upon us, and hundreds of people already forced to live outside as a result of a lack of safer options, the City of Toronto’s Winter Service Plan is a plan to offer 15% fewer spaces to people without access to housing than it did last winter.

FACT: This is not the first year the City has produced a wholly inadequate plan for winter service provision. The City of Toronto has a long history of inadequate plans to address the needs of people without housing during the winter, leaving people to weather the winter in inhumane conditions. It is often only after unrelenting public pressure that the City acknowledges the inadequacy of their plans by increasing the amount of space available and working to improve conditions.9

In 2017/18 the Winter Service Plan, which was developed following a review of the plan from the previous year included adding two additional winter respite sites, which would operate continuously from November 15 to April 15. This plan proved so inadequate that the City had to “add over 700 spaces, including 100 additional shelter beds, 200 new hotel/motel beds and over 400 additional winter respite and warming centre spaces. This included use of the Better Living Centre and Moss Park Armoury.”10


City Claim: City of Toronto Press Release, December 3, 2020

  1. See:
  2. The 620 additional spaces are comprised of 100 spaces for individuals at the Better Living Centre 24hr respite site; 210 beds in an undisclosed number of family hotel and motel rooms; 90 hotel beds in an undisclosed number of hotel rooms; and 220 units of permanent supportive housing–100 units of modular housing; and 120 units of supportive housing in a renovated TCHC building that will accommodate 144 women (including 69 former tenants who have the legal right to return to the building). City of Toronto. (October 6, 2020) City of Toronto 2020-2021 winter plan for people experiencing homelessness In February 2021, the City released yet another misleading press release indicating that the 120 units of supportive housing that were to be opened by the end of December would now not be fully occupied until the end of May, 2021.
  3. These shelter numbers are also misleading because they include “transitional shelter programs,” which are long-term programs that individuals must qualify for and be referred to. These are not emergency shelter spaces that someone in need of a place to stay can access by phoning Central Intake. Consequently, this inflates the appearance of shelter bed availability. For more on this and other issues with bed accessibility and the Daily Shelter Census, see Withers, A.J. (2020). Chapter 6: When is a bed not a bed: Epistemic injustice and shelter occupancy. Mapping ruling relations through homelessness organizing. 
  4. 7,221 “shelter sector” + 689 “overnight services” = 7,910. City of Toronto. (December 12, 2019). Daily Shelter Census.
  5. 7,134 “shelter sector” + 945 “overnight services”= 8,079. City of Toronto. (December 10, 2018). Daily Shelter Census.
  6. 7,425 “shelter sector”+ 1,045 “overnight services” = 8,470 City of Toronto. (March 21, 2019). Daily Shelter Census.
  7. 5,985 “shelter sector” + 807 “overnight services” = 6,792 City of Toronto. (January 24, 2018). Daily Shelter Census
  8. Mathieu, Emily. (January 31, 2017). Activists urge city council to create more shelter space. Toronto Star; Crowe, Cathy. (January 21, 2018). Toronto’s shelter catastrophe was decades in the making .; Toronto Newsroom. (January 6, 2018). Moss Park Armoury will open its doors to Toronto’s homeless. Toronto.Com.
  9. Ibid; Doherty, Brennan. (January 4, 2008). How Toronto started turning to armouries to relieve its shelter crunch. Toronto Star.
  10. Raftis, Paul. (February 20, 2018). CD26.5 Update on Emergency Shelter Services. Community Development and Recreation Committee of Toronto City Council. p.9

Claim: City programs in shelters, hotels, and transitional and supportive housing, also include medical supports, like mental health and addiction counselling, meals, clean linen and access to showers, to ensure people don’t return to living outside.

FACT: While the City claims that it provides medical supports (like mental health and addiction counseling) at City-funded facilities, supports aren’t interchangeable.

A health provider at a remote City-funded site is not an adequate replacement for a health provider with whom a person has a long-standing relationship; familiarity with the person’s case history and a trusting relationship, developed over time, makes a long-standing health provider uniquely important to a person’s health. For this reason, many encampment residents do not want to or are unable to move far away from the supports and services they rely on, which can include safe consumption sites, pharmacists, methadone clinics, friends, networks, and other places and services in the neighbourhood that are a part of their daily routine. Some people have been moved over an hour away by transit  from their communities.1

FACT: City-funded facilities subject residents to a large number of rules that can be difficult for people to follow, criminalizes behaviour, and can lead to involuntary discharge.2 A third of all people moved into the shelter system (30%) from encampments have left to an “unknown discharge location,”3 demonstrating that the conditions and services City-run sites provide are inadequate for many. 

FACT: Overdose prevention and harm reduction services in shelter-hotels have been inadequate.4 In 2020, 29 people died from overdose in the shelter system between January and November (compared to 13 people in all of 2019).5

FACT: Not all residents in shelter-hotels require the high levels of support that is often mandatory in shelter-hotels.6

For example, some front-line workers and former shelter-hotel residents have described the many (sometimes 5 or more) mandatory daily “wellness checks” that some residents have experienced as invasive and a serious violation of privacy.7  Inner City Health Associates recommends doing two “wellness checks” a day by phone.8 Reducing some kinds of supports for people who do not need or want them would help the City better provide support to the people who do need them. 


City Claim: City of Toronto Press Release, December 3, 2020

  1. Dodd, Z. Affidavit. Black et al. v. City of Toronto, 2020 ONSC 6398. Para 15. According to the the Encampment Support Network, Lamport Stadium residents, for example, were moved to shelter-hotels at Kennedy Rd. and the 401, 30 km and about 1 hour and 20 minutes away by transit.  Encampment Support Network. (July 27, 2020). Relocation and Return. ESN Donor Newsletter. Also see Dodd, Z., (November 8, 2020). Encampment Support Network Press Conference.
  2. Chili. (November 8, 2020). Encampment Support Network Press Conference; Lam, L. (November 8, 2020). Encampment Support Network Press Conference; Pabani, A., & Rotsztain, D. (2020). Dismantling Stubborn Structures
  3. Shelter Support and Housing Administration. (December 7, 2016). Update on COVID-19 response for Homelessness Services
  4. See Altenberg, J., & Robertson, A. (November 27, 2020). Get opioid overdose prevention and harm reduction into Toronto shelters — now. The Star; Dodd, Z., (November 8, 2020). Encampment Support Network Press Conference; Rondinelli, N. (2020, October 21). Deaths in Toronto Shelters at All Time High: CEO of Heart to Heart CPR Says That Shelter Staff is Taking the Wrong Course – A Claim Recently Supported by Newest Canadian 2020 Resuscitation Guidelines Released October 19, 2020. Global Newswire. 
  5. City of Toronto. (2020, December 15). Integrated Prevention and Harm Reduction (iPHARE) initiative, also see Boisvert, N. (2020, November 22). Preventing fatal opioid overdoses a looming challenge as Toronto shelters prepare for winter.
  6. Not all “supports” are mandatory, many are voluntary. However, “wellness checks” are mandatory
  7. Carbone, G. (2018, February 20). CD26.5 Update on Shelter Services. Community Development and Recreation Committee, Toronto City Council, p.44
  8. Svoboda, T., Baral, S., Perlas, P., Bond, A., Orkin, A., Jardine, L., & Tanner, G. (2020). Isolation Site for People Experiencing Homelessness: High Level Policies and Procedures Overview.