City council approves plan for closure of up to 5 temporary homeless shelters this year

Toronto city council approved a staff report on Wednesday that calls for the closing of up to five temporary homeless shelters this year.

2 sites already identified for decommissioning, city staff report says

A person stands in front of the Better Living Centre, which contains a temporary homeless shelter. The site is one of two identified by city staff to be closed this year. (CBC)

Toronto city council approved a staff report on Wednesday that calls for the closing this year of up to five temporary homeless shelters opened during the COVID-19 emergency.

The city has identified two sites for decommissioning this spring: the Better Living Centre on Princes' Boulevard and the former Days Inn hotel on Queen Street East. The Better Living Centre, to be closed April 30, has been operating for 17 months. Toronto has opened 25 other temporary shelters to augment its existing system during the pandemic.

According to the report, the two closures will mean the city will lose 231 spaces for unhoused people this spring: 187 at the Better Living Centre and 44 at the Days Inn.

Staff will identify other temporary homeless shelters to be closed in the coming months, the city said in a news release on Wednesday.

The report outlines a plan to "transition" out of the sites and shelter hotels leased during the pandemic.

"As sites are identified for decommissioning, staff will work to establish transition plans for each of the programs to be closed, in partnership with site operators, and will work to match clients with either permanent housing or space in the shelter system that meets their individual needs," the city said in the release.

The report says the city will make decisions about closures of temporary housing shelters based on such factors as availability of sites as determined by talks with property owners, the current state of good repair, cost and locations.

The city said the 27 temporary homeless shelter sites, which make up about 40 per cent of the total spaces, serve about 3,200 people each night.

In the past two years, more than 15,000 people have been sheltered at those sites, the city said.

"A sudden reversal of program delivery at temporary sites was not recommended as it would cause significant disruption to the vital services provided at these sites and to those who rely on them," the city said.

"As well, although many pandemic measure in the broader community are lifting, public health guidelines in high-risk congregate settings — like emergency shelters — have not changed and physical distancing remains in effect. A more cautious approach in emergency shelter settings is needed to ensure continued vigilance against any future resurgence of COVID-19."