New city data shows an average of 40 people a night turned away from Toronto homeless shelters

An average of 40 people per night have been told there were no beds available for them at Toronto homeless shelters over the past year and a half, according to newly released city data. .

And for the first six months of this year, an average of 63 people per night were “unmatched for shelter,” the city said of data released July 25.

More than three months after being ordered to do so, the city’s Shelter Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) released average monthly data showing the number of residents denied shelter overnight and how she processed and categorized shelter calls from January 2021 to June 2022.

Homelessness advocates say the numbers are unacceptable, deeply concerning and show that Toronto’s shelter system is not only at capacity, but not working as intended. They also say the average numbers are an “undercount” and most likely much higher since families are processed through a separate process and couples are counted as one caller.

And they say the average number is clearly on the rise, meaning a growing number of homeless people have nowhere to go in Toronto.

The data comes from what’s called Central Intake, a city-run phone service that offers referrals to emergency shelter, other overnight accommodations and information about homeless services. One dataset is the number of people still in the shelter system queue at 4am. The other set of data shows the type and outcome assigned to each call handled by Central Intake.

According to the city’s Daily Shelter and Overnight Service Usage webpage, a total of 8,014 people used Toronto’s shelter system on Tuesday, August 2. The city says Toronto runs the largest shelter system in Canada, with about 100 shelters.

“There is no interior where people can go”

AJ Withers, member of IMPACT, Information Mobilization for Public Accountability Collective Toronto, a grassroots collective that believes in the importance of public knowledge in laying the groundwork for social justice, said Wednesday that the number of people left homeless is appalling and the system is now beyond a point of crisis.

“That means people’s lives are literally put at risk, both from street violence and from the possibility of weather hazards. And the city has a responsibility to people living on the streets. And it absolutely neglects the most vulnerable people who live in the city,” Withers said.

“The city said people should just move indoors. And the reality is there’s no indoors for people to go. It’s turned away dozens of people,” Withers added. .

“And at the same time that they criminalize people in the parks for setting up tents, they offer no alternative.”

AJ Withers, member of IMPACT, Information Mobilization for Public Accountability Collective Toronto, a grassroots collective, says: “We actually have no idea of ​​the actual total number of people turned away. We only have a very small piece of the image. (Submitted by AJ Withers)

Withers, incoming Ruth Wynn Woodward Junior Chair at Simon Fraser University and homelessness researcher in Toronto, said the city hasn’t provided data in its open data portal on families deprived of homelessness. shelter and therefore it is not possible to calculate a more accurate average number of people unable to obtain a place in a shelter every night in Toronto.

“We actually have no idea of ​​the total number of people turned away. We only have a very small part of the picture.”

Withers added that homeless people could freeze to death in winter if they have nowhere to go.

And at the same time the city is turning away people from the shelter at night, it’s closing shelter hotels, Withers said. The Better Living Center, 195 Princes’ Blvd., and the former Days Inn hotel at 1684 Queen Street E, for example, were closed in April. ASIS has announced plans to close up to three more temporary shelter sites this year. The city has announced its intention to extend the leases of the majority of shelter hotels until April 2023.

“The system is not doing what it is supposed to do”

Greg Cook, another IMPACT member and an outreach worker at Toronto’s Sanctuary Ministries, said the data shows the system isn’t working. He said he is aware that some homeless people have given up trying to get space by calling Central Intake.

“The data shows that people aren’t getting what they need to survive. The system isn’t doing what it’s supposed to,” Cook said. “Something drastic has to happen.”

Greg Cook, another IMPACT member and outreach worker at Sanctuary Ministries in Toronto, says: “The data shows that people aren’t getting what they need to survive.” (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC)

The city, for its part, has acknowledged that the number of homeless people seeking a place in shelters and being told there are no beds available is on the rise.

“The data shows that Central Intake has seen increased call volumes and unparalleled callers, despite the city’s continued investments to expand the shelter system to meet demand,” said Jacqueline Solomon, Communications Advisor. for strategic communications with the public and city employees, in an email this week.

“The emergency shelter system plays an important role in supporting the health and well-being of homeless people, but its focus is on providing short-term accommodation for people. The solution to homelessness is permanent housing with support.

City says system faces ‘significant challenges’

The city, however, acknowledged that its shelter system was under pressure.

“The homelessness sector faces significant challenges, in Toronto as well as in other major cities across North America,” Solomon said. “The stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid crisis and the need for more supportive and affordable housing can all contribute to people facing significant hardship, placing them in need of shelter and emergency support.”

She said the city is working with the provincial and federal governments to secure more funding to address Toronto’s housing crisis.

As for families, she said the city considers them household units and they are not included in the data. “People seeking a place in family sector programs are supported through a different process that ensures they have indoor accommodation while they wait to access shelter,” she said.

The Maxwell Meighen Centre, a downtown Toronto shelter funded by the City of Toronto and operated by the Salvation Army, is pictured here in February 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

SSHA acting chief executive Gord Tanner was unavailable for comment but said in an interview in April after the city decided the division should release numbers that the shelter system continues to be “Very full”. He said he believed he was not in crisis. He added that releasing the information will allow the city council to make decisions on whether to open additional beds.

“These data will certainly demonstrate that there is a continuing growing demand for people calling Central Admissions to seek shelter space in our system. And this is an ongoing issue that we face in the City of Toronto. This will show that there is a continued demand for shelter spaces in the City of Toronto and sometimes unmet demand for these spaces,” Tanner said.

“I think that’s an important measure of what the demand for accommodation services looks like in a big city like Toronto. It demystifies, if you will, some of the questions people have.”

Com. Paul Ainslie, who represents Scarborough-Guildwood and who lobbied for the data to be released, said in an interview in April that he thought there might be a link between the data on people left homeless and the record number of homeless deaths lately. year. A total of 216 homeless people died in 2021.

“I find it hard to believe that there is no correlation between these people who have died on our streets and us turning people away from our shelters,” he said.

“I really don’t understand why staff won’t admit we have a problem. I don’t think there’s anything to be bothered about. I’m bothered as an advisor that people live on our streets. And we we need to do more about it, but I think we also need readily available data.

Ainslie said releasing the data holds staff and council accountable, helps councilors identify relevant issues and should prompt the city to take action.

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