Homelessness Services

About Homelessness in Toronto

Housing first

Guiding all homelessness and housing services in Toronto is "housing first," which acknowledges the central importance of safe, decent, appropriate and affordable housing to health and to dealing with whatever barriers might be preventing someone from living life to the fullest.

The City funds and operates services that help people find and keep housing and avoid eviction. If you need any of these services, go to the Housing Hub for information on where to get help.

Get a word description of the stats on homelessness and housing in Toronto

Download a pdf of the infographic

Emergency shelter

Toronto has more than 4,100 permanent emergency shelter beds. Some are operated by City staff but most are funded through the City and operated by community agencies.

Shelters provide a place to sleep, meals, and counseling services that are focused on helping people set goals for housing, employment and education. Families are accommodated in shelters and also in motels that can be accessed as needed, which allows the City to ensure there are places for families to take shelter in the event of unexpected increases in demand, such as could happen with an economic downturn, or when foreign wars result in surges in refugee claimants, or there are evacuations due to fires or natural disasters.

You may think homeless people are different from you but in fact, anyone who is living pay cheque to pay cheque could become homeless and need a place to stay while they get back on their feet. Most people who use the shelter system are there for economic reasons and use it for a short period. Half of all people using the shelter system exit in less than two months and don't return.

Occupancy rates on the rise

There is more use than ever of homeless shelters in Toronto with daily occupancy rates running at about 95% in recent months. In part, this is because some people are staying longer in shelters as it is difficult to find appropriate housing at an affordable price. At the same time, there has been a recent increase in people who cite "refugee" as the reason for needing service. The majority are families so there is increased use of motels for the purposes of meeting family sector demand for shelter. The City is looking to locate new shelters to ensure there are sufficient places for residents to go when they find themselves in need of emergency shelter.

The redevelopment of Seaton House, an outdated facility on George St. that serves more than 600 men in several different shelter programs, has been approved by City Council and would see innovative new services available for men and women, including emergency shelter for men, long-term care beds, an assisted living facility and affordable housing units. George Street Revitalization would serve to spark new life in the downtown east neighbourhood, but also adds to urgency to develop new emergency shelters in Toronto.

Street Homelessness

Streets to Homes is a program that the City runs using both City staff and community agencies to provide outreach and housing assistance to those who are sleeping outdoors or spending their days on the streets.

The goal is to help people find and keep appropriate and permanent housing. This can be challenging both because of the mental illness and addictions of some clients, but also because it is difficult to find housing that is affordable on social assistance.

(A single person in Ontario receives up to $706 a month on Ontario Works to cover rent, food, and other necessities. Toronto leads the province of Ontario with the highest average rents and the lowest vacancy rate.)

But outreach workers are persistent and engage with their clients over and over to prepare housing plans, view units, and make the move from the street into a home of their own. A key part of the program is the follow up supports that each client must agree to receive after moving into their unit. Since the program started in 2005, Streets to Homes staff have helped more than 5,320 unique individuals to move into housing, directly from the streets. As of mid-2016, the percentage of those remaining in their homes at the 12 month mark was 85%.

See also Guide to Services for People who are Homeless


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