Claim: This is the first year that the City has offered more than one Warming Centre, which will increase access to these services across Toronto.* For the first time, as well, there are four warming centres, an increase from one, across the city when an extreme cold weather alert is called.**

FACT: In previous years, the City of Toronto has offered multiple Warming Centres. In 2016/17 there were three,1 and in 2017/18 there were two.2 In addition to these Warming Centres, the the Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre at 129 Peter Street was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.3

FACT: At a time when the number of indoor spaces people have access to has been drastically reduced due to COVID-19 restrictions, the City of Toronto is only opening three additional Warming Centres in 2020/21–the fourth “Warming Centre” at 129 Peter Street (the Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre), represents a loss in service, as it is currently only available during Extreme Cold Weather Alerts, when prior to the pandemic it had been open as a full-service site 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.4


*City Claim: City of Toronto News Release, December 15, 2020
**City Claim: City of Toronto Press Release, December 3, 2020

  1. Bondy, Madeleine. (February 6, 2017). The City of Toronto is Failing many of its Most Marginalized Homeless Citizens. Imagine.
  2. City of Toronto. (January 4, 2018). City of Toronto opens two 24/7 warming centres.
  3. Raftis, P. (2019). CD29.08 2019 Shelter Infrastructure Plan and System Update Report. p.8
  4. Ibid.

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: There are more than 6,000 shelter spaces in the city today.

FACT: While the City makes conflicting statements about the number of shelter spaces in the City today, the fact is that the City’s shelter system can accommodate 1,594 fewer people today than it could prior to the pandemic.

On March 16th, the day before Toronto went into lockdown, shelter capacity was recorded as 7,139 people (2,802 people in family hotels/motels, 4,337 people in the singles sector) plus 654 people in 24-hour respites, women-only drop-ins, and Out of the Cold sites, for a total capacity of 7,793 people.1 The City has indicated on different days and in different ways that shelter capacity is either 6,000 spaces, 6,700 spaces, or 6,766 spaces.2 However, the City’s Daily Shelter Census data indicated on November 9th, 2020,3 the maximum capacity of the shelter system is 6,145 people, including an additional 13 spaces at the Better Living Centre that have been added as part of the Winter Service Plan.4 


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

  1. There is no explicit indication of whether this shelter capacity figure was a measurement of people, or rooms and spaces/beds; however, family motels are recorded as having a capacity of 2,218, and an occupancy level of 86 percent when occupied by 1,910 people, indicating that “capacity” referred to individuals, not rooms. City of Toronto. (March 16, 2020). Daily Shelter Census.
  2. A news release from Oct. 6, 2020  states that there are “6,700 spaces in Toronto’s shelter system that are currently available year-round.” Meanwhile, a backgrounder also released on Oct. 6, 2020  originally stated that “In total, this winter, the shelter system will provide more than 6,700 spaces through the City’s base shelter system and approximately 560 new spaces,” but was changed on Nov. 29th to read “In total, this winter, the shelter system will provide more than 6,000 spaces through the City’s base shelter system and approximately 620 new spaces.” A fact-sheet published on October 18, 2020 states, “Toronto’s shelter system provides more than 6,000 spaces” and then goes on to indicate that shelter capacity as of Sept. 15, 2020 is 6,766 spaces. A media release published December 15, 2020 states that the City’s base shelter system “provides more than 6,000 spaces.” 
  3. Assessing the number of spaces in the shelter system based on data reported through the Daily Shelter Census is challenging. The City has been changing how it reports shelter system data publicly online since the start of the pandemic, when it stopped updating its Daily Shelter Census. When it started reporting again in April, it said it was providing “a point-in-time snapshot on the number of clients in our shelter system. This snapshot will be updated once a week and represents occupancy on the day listed below, however it may not be inclusive of all programs and should not be compared to past occupancy statistics.”  This “snapshot” method continued through October. By November 9th the City had switched to using a variety of metrics to report shelter system “space” depending on the type of facility. Rather than tracking potential shelter capacity (the number of people that the system could potentially shelter), the City began separately tracking and reporting “spaces,” “beds,” and “rooms,” where “rooms” could potentially accommodate more than one person, and in the case of family shelters, several people. The City claims (at the bottom of the webpage) that this data measures “capacity,” saying, “Capacity is measured in rooms for family programs and hotel and interim housing COVID-19 response programs. For all other programs, it is reported at the bed or space level. This figure represents all spaces, whether occupied or vacant, that are available in the system at 4 a.m.” However a room and a bed are not measures of capacity. For example, on November 9th, 2020, the City reports that there were 462 rooms in the family shelter system. This says nothing of the rooms’ capacity (the number of people those rooms can accommodate). However, the City reports that 431 of those rooms were occupied by a total of 1,321 people–an average of 3 people per room–which indicates that the capacity of the 462 rooms is roughly 1,386 people. At the same time, on November 9th, the City reports there were also 2,535 beds/spaces for individuals (2,282 in the singles sector + 263 in 24hr respites and women’s 24hr drop-ins), and 2,224 COVID-19 Program rooms/units (24hr temporary + hotels + interim housing + recovery–the number of occupants reported and the occupancy rate reported indicates that these rooms are intended for a single person only, even if a few of them are currently accommodating more than one person). Assuming an average of 3 people in each family shelter room (1,386 people) and one person in each room/unit-based COVID-19 Program space (2,224 people), the maximum capacity of the shelter system on November 9th, 2020 is 6,145 people. This number includes 13 Better Living Centre spaces, which are additional spaces under the Winter Service Plan.
  4. November 9th was the date chosen for analysis because it was the date closest to the first date this claim was made (October 6th) where there was an archival record (on where the City was reporting adequate data for analysis. (The reporting method used for Oct.8th, for example, did not provide adequate data for analysis.)

Claim: Since March 2020, the City has permanently housed more than 2,800 individuals experiencing chronic homelessness through rent geared to income units and with housing allowances. This represents an increase of 50% increase (sic) in housing outcomes compared to the same time period last year.

FACT: It remains unclear how many people the City has housed in permanent housing during the pandemic, and how many remain housed.

On December 3, 2020, 11 days after the claim above was made, the City made another statement in a news release with the headline, “City of Toronto continues to take extraordinary steps to help and protect people experiencing homelessness during COVID-19,” saying that it had “referred more than 2,500 people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing” so far this year.1 A ”referral” is when a service provider “refers” a person to another service provider who may be able to help a person access permanent housing. It does not mean a person was housed.2 With 2,500 referrals over an 11 month period, the City was referring an average of 227 people each month to housing in 2020. For both of these statements to be true, in the eleven days between these two statements, not only would the City have had to increase its average rate of housing by more than 3.5 times, but it would have had to make up the gap between the referrals and the people who were actually housed and housing this additional number of people. This seems implausible. What is more likely, is that the 2,800 claim is incorrect and instead 2,800 individuals were referred to permanent housing.

What makes this claim difficult to interpret and verify, is the lack of data provided to substantiate it. When the City’s Housing Secretariat claimed that 2,800 people had been housed, the only concrete data it provided was, “325 units were occupied and 450 individuals housed, an additional 450 units are proposed to be filled over the next 3 months.” This data clarifies that 450 people were indeed housed, but leaves the housing status of the remaining 2,350 people unknown.3

We don’t know how many people actually successfully secured permanent housing and how many of them have remained housed, or how this compares with last year.

The City is housing people through a combination of housing allowances and rent-geared-to-income units.4 Typically, housing allowances are time-limited, lasting for 5 years, which undermines the supposed permanency of the housing.5 Also, housing allowances, by definition, “may not completely cover the gap between an affordable rent… and the market rent,” which increases the likelihood of a person becoming homeless again.6 Further, the numbers of people referred and housed includes housing placements that were planned and budgeted for prior to the pandemic, not only emergency COVID-19 placements, and so it is misleading to refer to these placements as “extraordinary steps” taken by the City.7, 8


City Claim: Bond, A. (December 14, 2020). Attachment 1 – Update on the Ongoing COVID-19 Emergency Shelter Response.

  1. City of Toronto Press Release, December 3, 2020.
  2. For information about how referrals work within the shelter system see: Carbone, G. (February 20, 2018). CD26.5 Update on Shelter Services. Community Development and Recreation Committee, Toronto City Council, p.57. Referrals work similarly for housing. 
  3. Bond, A. (December 14, 2020). Attachment 1 – Update on the Ongoing COVID-19 Emergency Shelter Response. Toronto City Council; City of Toronto Press Release, December 3, 2020.
  4. Ibid.
  5. See City of Toronto. (n.d.). “Housing allowance subsidies.” Subsidized Housing & Housing Benefits; Toronto Drop-in Network. (2020). Pandemic Housing Initiatives
  6. Toronto. (2019). Housing + Homelessness Service Glossary 2019, p. 9.
  7. City of Toronto Press Release, December 3, 2020; Gibson, V. (August 13, 2020). Toronto says it’s moved more than 1,500 people from shelters into permanent housing since COVID-19 hit. But that figure doesn’t tell the whole story . The Star.
  8. For more on this issue, see Toronto Drop-in Network’s Post: Pandemic Housing Initiatives.

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).


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

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.

FACT: The claim, during the COVID-19 pandemic, that the safest place for anyone experiencing homelessness is inside is dubious.

More than 660 cases of COVID-19 have been reported inside the shelter system during the pandemic,1 while less than five cases have been identified in encampments through widespread testing.2 

Research has demonstrated that COVID-19 risk is highest in indoor congregate settings where droplet and airborne transmission becomes a significant threat; the level of risk is increased with the more time a person spends in such a setting, the more people it contains, and the lower the quality of its ventilation.3 

Places that used to be considered safe for people like restaurants, churches, hospitals, and long-term care homes, are now sites with the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission.4 Yet, the City hasn’t updated its view of risks associated with the shelter system. As many as 2,874 spaces in the shelter system are currently congregate settings, many with shared bathrooms and eating areas.5

FACT: The City of Toronto has withheld basic services from people living in encampments; these services would increase people’s safety.

Scott McKean, Manager of Community Safety and Wellbeing Planning, Social Development Finance and Administration with the City of Toronto, gave sworn testimony that: 

City staff have identified opportunities to have dedicated staffing and infrastructure within encampment sites, including suggestions by community partners. At this time, the City has prioritized creating access to safer spaces inside… rather than building infrastructure into encampments. Building infrastructure in encampments would require spending scarce resources in parks and risk encouraging larger encampments.6

FACT: It was only in October 2020, seven months into the pandemic, that the City of Toronto lifted a prohibition on the distribution of survival supplies for all agencies receiving City funding. It took over two years from the issuance of the Coroner’s Jury Recommendations in the Inquest into the death of Grant Faulkner for this ban to be lifted.7 This prohibition was instituted  when Streets to Homes was put in place in 2005.8

FACT: The City provides no data or analysis of the dangers associated with various housing or shelter options, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and overdose crisis. 

People face many threats to their safety including contracting COVID-19, exposure to the elements including freezing to death), physical violence/assault, contracting other diseases, theft, sexual assault, overdosing, fire, and trauma.9 The level of risk related to each of these threats can increase or decrease depending on the specific shelter/housing situation. Often people become homeless because their housing situation has become unsafe.10 In some cases, it is the City itself that is responsible for the threat and has the capacity to lessen it.11 The Premier of Ontario recognizes that some people report not wanting to stay in shelters because “some people get beat-up, their stuff gets stolen.”12 The City needs to update its outdated understanding of safety in accordance with current data about the actual safety risks that people experiencing homelessness are facing and apply it to reducing those risks and making shelter and housing options safer.


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

  1. City of Toronto. (2020). Active COVID-19 Outbreaks in Toronto Shelters, December 2, 2020.
  2. Harper, L. (November 23, 2020). National Housing Day Press Conference, Shelter & Housing Justice Network, Toronto; Lena, S. (September 30, 2020). Over the last six months, I’ve tested more than 1,000 people for Covid in hospitals, shelters and homeless encampments. Toronto Life.
  3. Ahlawat, A., Wiedensohler, A., & Mishra, S. K. (2020). An Overview on the Role of Relative Humidity in Airborne Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Indoor Environments. Aerosol and Air Quality Research, 20(9), 1856–1861; Boisvert, N. ( December 2, 2020). Shared dorms in Toronto shelters put users at risk of airborne COVID-19 transmission, critics warn. CBC News; CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (October 28, 2020). How Coronavirus Spreads. Editorial: COVID-19 transmission—up in the air. (2020). The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, 8(12), 1159. Hamner, L., Dubbel, P., Capron, I., Ross, A., Jordan, A., Lee, J., Lynn, J., Ball, A., Narwal, S., Russell, S., Patrick, D., & Leibrand, H. (2020). High SARS-CoV-2 Attack Rate Following Exposure at a Choir Practice — Skagit County, Washington, March 2020. MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 69(19), 606–610; Kohanski, M. A., Lo, L. J., & Waring, M. S. (2020). Review of indoor aerosol generation, transport, and control in the context of COVID‐19. International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology, 10(10), 1173–1179; Noorimotlagh, Z., Jaafarzadeh, N., Martínez, S. S., & Mirzaee, S. A. (2021). A systematic review of possible airborne transmission of the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) in the indoor air environment. Environmental Research, 193(2021), 1–6; Morawska, L., & Milton, D. K. (2020). It Is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Clinical Infectious Diseases, 71(9); Liu, M., Maxwell, C. J., Armstrong, P., Schwandt, M., Moser, A., McGregor, M. J., Bronskill, S. E., & Dhalla, I. A. (2020). COVID-19 in long-term care homes in Ontario and British Columbia. CMAJ , 192(47), E1540–E1546; Carman, T. (2020, December 11). Coronavirus can travel farther and faster inside restaurants than previously thought, South Korean study suggests. The Philadelphia Inquirer; Dubinski, K. (2020, November 24). “Alarming” COVID-19 outbreaks spreading throughout University Hospital. CBC News. 
  4. Ibid.
  5. Boisvert, N. (December 2, 2020). Shared dorms in Toronto shelters put users at risk of airborne COVID-19 transmission, critics warn. CBC News.
  6. McKean, Scott. (2020) Affidavit. Motion Record – City of Toronto. Black et al. v. City of Toronto, 2020 ONSC 6398. Para 18.
  7. Toronto City Council. (October 27, 2020). Interim Shelter Recovery and Infrastructure Implementation Plan; Office of the Chief Coroner. (2018). OCC Inquest Faulkner 2018: Verdict of Coroner’s Jury.
  8. McQuaig, L. (2007, June 1). We allowed rich to win class war. Toronto Star; Withers, A. J. (2020). Mapping ruling relations through homelessness organizing. York University.
  9. See, for e.g.: Cowan, L., Hwang, S. W., Khandor, E., & Mason, K. (2007). The Street Health report; Deck, S. M., & Platt, P. A. (2015). Homelessness is traumatic: Abuse, victimization, and trauma histories of homeless men. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 24(9), 1022–1043; Toronto Public Health. (2020). Deaths of People Experiencing Homelessness: January 1, 2017 to June 30, 2020.
  10. City of Toronto. (2018). Street needs assessment – 2018. Cowan, L., Hwang, S. W., Khandor, E., & Mason, K. (2007). The Street Health report, p. 10.
  11. In addition to withholding services from encampments (n. 6-8 above), this threat comes in multiple forms, including through police violence, which 35% of homeless people reported experiencing. Cowan, L., Hwang, S. W., Khandor, E., & Mason, K. (2007). The Street Health report 2007, p 55; O’Grady, B., Gaetz, S., & Buccieri, K. (2011). Can I see your ID? The policing of youth homelessness in Toronto. Justice for Children and Youth & Homeless Hub, p. 47-48.The City of Toronto, through its Toronto Community Housing Corporation, is also a large landlord which actively creates homelessness through evictions, see: Leon, S., & Iveniuk, J. (2020). Forced out: Evictions, race, and poverty in Toronto.
  12. Ford, D. (June 24, 2020). COVID-19 Press Conference.

For more on the Faulkner recommendations, the Encampment Support Network has made a short graphic guide.

Claim: As of December 2, the City has identified 395 tents in 66 sites in parks across Toronto.

FACT:  The City’s estimate of roughly 400 people living in encampments in Toronto is a severe undercount.

The City’s estimate1 of the number of people in encampments is limited to Streets to Homes workers counting the number of encampments and the number of tents in those encampments.2 Based upon the similarity between the City’s tent numbers and encampment resident numbers, it seems that the City is assuming that there is roughly one person living in each tent. This methodology is flawed. The City’s map indicating the number of encampments and tents in different parts of the City is drastically lower than numbers provided by local homeless-serving agencies that provide regular outreach services to homeless people in their communities, which puts the number at closer to 800 people in encampments.3 An analysis of encampments that have been cleared by the City demonstrates that each tent has sheltered roughly 2 people, not one as the City has assumed.

FACT: Not every unhoused person living outside is staying in an encampment. City figures don’t include people who have been sheltering in places like in TTC vehicles,4 in TTC shelters, in stairwells, on sidewalks, on subway grates, or in abandoned properties. The number of unhoused people living outside in Toronto is likely over 1,000 people.


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

  1. The City has provided inconsistent numbers regarding the number encampment population. “Around 400” was asserted by Mayor John Tory at the December 7, 2020 COVID-19 Briefing and by SSHA General Manager at the October 28 Toronto City Council meeting. Four days after the press release that said there were 395 tents (including other shelters) in encampments, Gord Tanner, Director of Homelessness Initiatives and Prevention for the City said there were “423 tents in encampments in Toronto” at the Economic and Community Development meeting.
  2. Bedard, M. (October 28, 2020). Toronto City Council meeting.
  3. Doug Johnson Hatlem provides his detailed methodology here.
  4. See: Yuen, J. (Dec 11, 2020). Uptick in homeless sheltering on TTC vehicles during pandemic. Toronto Sun.