City of Toronto shares Winter Services Plan updates for those experiencing homelessness

homeless person on the streets in the winter

On Wednesday, the City of Toronto shared important updates about 2023/24 Winter Services Plan that outline how it will support those experiencing homelessness during the winter months. When the Winter Services Plan was released in October, the City noted that the Plan would continue to evolve as City staff monitor demand for Warming Centres and continue to search for appropriate locations to add capacity.

Expanded Winter Services capacity

The City worked collaboratively with partners at Exhibition Place to confirm use of the Better Living Centre as a 24-hour respite site that will remain operational until early March 2024 as Exhibition Place requires the site back for a prior reservation. The City’s operating partners are coordinating a gradual opening of this respite site, welcoming approximately 40 people per day through referrals between December 21 to December 26. Once fully operational, this space will have capacity for approximately 240 people.

It is important to note that many of these spaces will be already accounted for as the City will refer people from existing outdoor locations. Securing use of this site will add critical capacity for January and February, the coldest months of the winter season.

In addition, the City’s service partner Covenant House opened a new 24-hour winter respite program on November 15 located at 20 Gerrard St. E. This program is providing 30 much-needed spaces for youth experiencing homelessness and will remain continuously open until April 15, 2024.

Through close collaboration with various operating partners, the City has confirmed expanded operating hours at drop-in programs this winter. Approximately 140 extra operating hours have been added at 10 City-funded drop-in locations throughout the city for the duration of the winter season.

These updates are in addition to the elements of the Winter Plan previously announced:
•       180 spaces have been added in the shelter system
•       a 24-hour winter respite site with capacity for approximately 50 individuals identifying as males is open
•       the City is activating three Warming Centres when temperatures reach minus five degrees Celsius or colder. A fourth site will be available soon, for a total of 180 Warming Centre spaces
•       began to tenant 101 of 275 housing units expected to come online through the winter
•       additional street outreach teams encouraging people to come indoors when temperatures reach minus 15 degrees Celsius
•       opening 30 additional surge spaces when temperatures reach minus 15 degrees Celsius

The City expects demand for shelter space to continue to rise throughout the winter season into 2024 for numerous reasons including insufficient affordable housing supply, increasing living costs, inadequate wage and income supports and an increasing number of refugee claimants arriving in Toronto.

The Plan will continue to evolve as City staff monitor demand and continue to search for appropriate locations to add capacity. While the additional shelter space created by the Plan will help many in need this winter, the City acknowledges that it may not be sufficient to address the increasing demand for shelter and housing.

System pressures

As of December 17, the City was supporting 11,181 people – 9,370 people in the shelter system and 1,811 people outside the shelter system in bridging hotels and programs supported by the Canadian Red Cross. Of these, 5,372 are refugee claimants – or 48 per cent of the total number of people being supported.

Since September 2021, the City has seen the number of refugee claimants in the emergency shelter system increase by more than 653 per cent. In November 2023 alone, the shelter system admitted 685 new refugee claimants. City staff are also working with the Canadian Red Cross to support another 411 refugee claimants in hotel accommodations outside of the shelter system and 916 refugee claimants on the family placement list in bridging hotels.

Toronto’s shelter system is the largest in Canada, providing more shelter beds per capita than any other Canadian city. Despite this capacity, every day approximately 200 people are left unmatched to a shelter bed after calling Central Intake – including between 50 and 100 refugee claimants. These figures are in addition to those waiting on the family placement list. Currently 467 families with children (including 322 refugee claimant families) on this list are currently in temporary bridging hotel accommodation awaiting space to become available in a family shelter program.


Availability of affordable and supportive housing remains critical to lifting people out of chronic homelessness. Due to the increasing cost of rent in Toronto and insufficient social assistance rates, households in the emergency shelter system need financial help to bridge the affordability gap to exit homelessness. The Canada Ontario Housing Benefit (COHB) has been successful in helping people out of the shelter system. It provides a financial bridge to people’s income supports so they can afford rent in the private market. It is a benefit that has been particularly effective to help refugee claimants into permanent housing.

Since the increase in funding provided by the City and matched by the Province of Ontario in August 2023, COHB has supported more than 1,300 households to exit homelessness and is forecasted to reach 2,000 households (approximately 300 per month) by the end of the program year in March 2024.

The City is calling on the Federal Government to match the Province’s additional COHB funding allocations to ensure that there is sufficient funding to both sustain existing benefits for recipients while ensuring the City is able to maintain the program at existing levels throughout the next program year (2024/25). Without this funding, the City is likely to see shelter outflows drop significantly as experienced when the COHB funding was initially exhausted in June and September of 2023.

Funding needed

The City is thankful to the Province for its commitment of $600 million over the next three years to support Toronto’s shelter system. However, this funding is conditional on the Federal Government coming forward with a commitment to contribute their share – full costs of our refugee response and properly fund the immigration system. This level of support will help ensure that people coming to Canada have a dignified entry and connection to services, and it will support Toronto in continuing to serve people experiencing homelessness in the City.

SOURCE City of Toronto

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