Toronto unveils winter plan for homeless people as city prepares for snow

Toronto unveiled its new winter services plan for homeless people on Wednesday as the city prepares for its first snowfall of the season.

Plan includes new centre for homeless refugees and asylum seekers and nearly 500 new spaces

The city says it is opening six new services as part of the 2019-2020 winter services plan. (Shutterstock/Serhii Zavalnyi)

Toronto unveiled its new winter services plan for homeless people on Wednesday as the city prepares for its first snowfall of the season.

The 2019-2020 plan includes a new centre in the area of Yonge Street and Finch Avenue for homeless refugees and asylum seekers. It is set to open on Nov. 12, the city said in a news release on Wednesday.

Operated by Homes First Society, the site will have space for up to 200 adults and will provide overnight accommodation and specialized services through partnerships with community agencies, the city's Newcomer Office and existing city divisions.

The opening of the centre will free 200 beds across Toronto's shelter system, the city added.

Times Group Corporation, which owns the building that will contain the centre, offered to lease it to the city to help newcomers to Toronto. The property itself is 7,400-square metres.

Winter plan includes 6 new services 

The city said the site is one of six new services for homeless people in Toronto available this winter, and through its winter services plan, the city said it is offering more spaces, service locations and specialized services for homeless people.

"A range of new services will be provided this year that are targeted to the specific needs of people experiencing homelessness," the city said in the release. 

Demand for emergency shelter 'unprecedented,' city says

Toronto continues to experience "unprecedented demand for emergency shelter," the city added. It noted homelessness is an "extremely complex issue."

The plan was released as the city was placed under a special weather statement on Wednesday afternoon, with light snow expected overnight or into early Thursday. Temperatures are also expected to drop below freezing on Thursday and on the weekend.

'Homelessness is an extremely complex issue and the city of Toronto continues to experience unprecedented demand for emergency shelter,' the city says in a news release. (David Donnelly/CBC)

According to the city, the six new services will add 485 spaces for homeless people in all.

City's shelter system has 7,105 spaces

When combined with the 414 spaces available in the city's existing 24-hour respite sites, there are 899 spaces being made available through its winter plan, the release said. Currently, there are 7,105 spaces in the city's shelter system.

The winter services plan includes the following services that will be available until April 2020:

  • A 50-space, 24-hour respite site operated by St. Felix Centre at 25 Augusta Ave.
  • 100 additional temporary winter beds at Seaton House, 339 George St.
  • 50 additional temporary winter beds at 545 Lakeshore Blvd. operated by Homes First Society.
  • 85 spaces for single adults in a hotel-based pre-housing program.

"The winter services plan is informed by experience from previous winters and supported by previous recommendations from city council and the city's ombudsman," the city said.

"This is the sixth consecutive winter that the city will increase overall capacity to ensure safe and welcoming places for people who need them."

'Increasing pressures'

According to the city, the winter services plan is a response to "increasing pressures" from refugees and asylum seekers, as well as people from nearby municipalities that have fewer services for homeless people than Toronto has.

As of Nov. 4, there were 6,603 adults, youth and children in Toronto's shelter system and 612 people at respites and drop-ins, the city added.

Toronto's shelter system has more than 7,100 beds in 63 permanent shelters and motel and hotel programs.

Nearly 2,400 beds in hotel-based programs are designed to help families. The city also operates 10 shelters itself and provides funding to community agencies to operate the other 53 shelters. 

In addition, 16 Out of the Cold locations, operated by inter-denominational faith-based volunteer groups, provide an average of 90 spaces each night.

The city says it has added more than 2,500 shelter beds since 2015.