This report offers advice to guide the City of Toronto Shelter Support and Housing Administration (SSHA), United Way Greater Toronto (United Way), community agencies, and other partners in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in the shelter and homelessness service system over the next 12 months.
Since March, these partners have implemented a rapid and significant emergency response to protect those in shelter and respite services. We have seen silos across systems bridged as partners have worked collaboratively to provide the coordinated services demanded by the pandemic. Opening 30 new facilities and establishing transportation, screening and recovery programs all contributed to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 among people experiencing homelessness. More than 1,570 people have been housed between March and August, a 50% increase over the same period last year.
The scale of this mobilization reflects the intensity and urgency of need in the shelter system during this pandemic. COVID-19 is compounding the many challenges people experiencing homelessness already faced prior to the pandemic, creating new risks and vulnerabilities for this population. In addition to the risks the virus poses for people experiencing homelessness – many of whom have pre-existing health challenges – many shelter system clients are struggling with reduced access to services, isolation from community, worsened mental health, more limited access to safe indoor space, and heightened risk of violence. This is especially true for women in abusive situations and transgender, Black, and Indigenous individuals.
This strategy presents immediate priorities in the context of the pandemic and lays a foundation to build on in SSHA’s upcoming five-year service plan. The advice offered in this report was generated through a process co-convened by SSHA and United Way, and led by a task force of leaders in the homelessness service system. The task force’s input was supplemented with consultations with clients and people with lived experience, health partners, frontline staff, and other partners detailed in this report’s Introduction. At the suggestion of Indigenous members of the task force, SSHA and United Way also convened a separate process to engage the Toronto Indigenous Community Advisory Board to create a separate, parallel strategy for Indigenous people experiencing homelessness, included on page 26 of this report.
The advice offered in this report reflects the collective expertise of contributors, lessons learned from the first phase of the pandemic, and established knowledge about solutions to prevent and end homelessness that COVID-19 has created even more urgency to implement.