Taking Action to Protect Individuals Experiencing Homelessness from COVID-19

In Toronto we look after each other. This means ensuring that all members of our community are supported, and doing everything we can to ensure that all Torontonians remain healthy and safe.

The City of Toronto has, over the past weeks, rapidly mobilized and implemented a plan in response to the risk COVID-19 presents to clients of the city’s network of shelters, respites, and drop-ins. Shelter, Support & Housing Administration (SSHA) is working with community partners to further strengthen this city-wide response and assure vulnerable individuals experiencing homelessness that their health and safety is a priority.

Nine new facilities and new hotel spaces for physical distancing

As physical distancing is a priority, SSHA has opened nine new facilities with more than 350 spaces to create further physical distancing for clients from shelters, 24-hour respites and 24-hour drop-ins. An additional facility is preparing to open with more space ready to be activated as needed. In some cases, community and recreation centres closed as part of the City’s suspension of non-essential services are reopening to support distancing efforts. The City has also opened space at hotel and motel sites and is exploring other opportunities so that we stay one step ahead of a rapidly evolving situation.

As of this morning, there are two positive cases of COVID-19 in the shelter system. The identification of a second case – with no connection to the first case reported last week – is not unexpected. Both individuals are recovering in isolation. SSHA is working with Toronto Public Health to identify people who may have come in close contact with the individuals to actively monitor, test, and isolate those who become symptomatic. There is no evidence of an outbreak in our shelter system.

Canada's first dedicated isolation shelter for people experiencing homelessness

The City of Toronto also has Canada’s first dedicated isolation site for people experiencing homelessness who are awaiting COVID-19 test results. Referrals to the program come directly from provincial COVID-19 testing centres. When fully-operational, the facility will have 40 rooms for isolated households waiting for results. SSHA is also working with the Province to prioritize test results for this vulnerable group. There are further plans in partnership with the provincial government and Inner City Health Associates to open a COVID-19 recovery site for people experiencing homelessness who have tested positive with the virus. The recovery site will include 24-hour wrap-around health and medical supports.

Rapid Housing Access Initiative

A new Rapid Housing Access Initiative is helping to prioritize access to housing for existing shelter clients in Toronto Community Housing. Fifteen households have been matched with housing and will be moving in this week. An additional 50 units have been identified for move-in in the coming weeks. Clients are being referred through the Coordinated Access system and provided with supports to be successful in achieving housing stability. Units are being prioritized for particularly vulnerable individuals, including seniors.

Enhanced screening and cleaning measures

Enhanced screening by Central Intake is ongoing. Stronger infection, prevention and control (IPAC) and cleaning measures continue at City and partner shelters. The City has provided additional funding for this increase in preventative measures, purchasing specialized cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE), and helping to increase physical distancing (i.e. installation of curtains). There is now a focus on implementing a PPE distribution plan to ensure this critical equipment is available to clients and staff.

Support for housing partners

SSHA has also issued broad direction today to over 200 social and affordable housing providers responsible for over 33,000 units reinforcing that the housing stability of residents is a top priority. Housing providers have been directed to be flexible, exercise discretion, and to work with households whose employment-related income is affected by the current emergency.

As in all jurisdictions, the situation in our shelter system is evolving every day. The City, through SSHA and the Emergency Operations Centre, is committed communicating and working with our more than 200 community partners to provide the best possible care to individuals experiencing homelessness in our city.

If you or someone you know needs street outreach, call 311 or Central Intake at 416-338-4766.

The City’s website is updated daily with the latest health advice and information about City services, social supports, and economic recovery measures. Check www.toronto.ca/covid-19 for answers to common questions before contacting the Toronto Public Health COVID-19 Hotline or 311.

As a City we will continue working non-stop to ensure the most vulnerable members of our community are supported. No one will be left behind.