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Toronto may begin to close temporary shelters that make up 40% of its capacity

Click to play video: 'Toronto may begin closing temporary shelters opened at start of pandemic'
Toronto may begin closing temporary shelters opened at start of pandemic
WATCH ABOVE: The City of Toronto could begin to decommission temporary shelter spaces that were set up to help people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Erica Vella reports, a report will be going to committee looking at a phased approach over 24 months – Mar 18, 2022

The City of Toronto could begin to decommission temporary shelter spaces that were set up to help people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A staff report, that will be considered by the city’s economic and community development committee on March 24, set out a timeline to wind down additional supports.

“The sites leased as part of the City’s COVID-19 response were not intended to be used on a permanent basis,” Toronto’s shelter, support and housing administration told Global News.

Read more: Coroner evaluating inquest request on cold-related homeless deaths in Toronto

It estimated 40 per cent of Toronto’s current shelter space comes from its temporary sites.

The plan in the report will not be operational until it has received approval from Toronto councillors.

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“This report is not recommending a full return to the pre-COVID situation in the shelter system,” the staff report said.

It recommended extending the lease of all shelters with agreements that expire in 2022 until the end of the year. Over the next 12 months, staff said “up to five temporary sites will be decommissioned.”

The report said 10 spaces will continue to operate “as needed in 2023 and beyond.” Some temporary shelters have agreements into 2024.

Read more: COVID-19: Toronto immunization clinics aimed at vaccinating those experiencing homelessness

Toronto opened 27 new shelter spaces to respond to pandemic pressures. They provided shelter to around 3,200 people every night, the city estimated.

Two locations have already been selected to shut down: 195 Princes’ Boulevard and 164 Queen Street East.  Staff said they will close in spring 2022.

A total of 143 people experiencing homelessness died in Toronto during 2020, an average of 2.8 people per week, according to data from the city. Figures up to June 2021 showed 94 people experiencing homelessness died in Toronto last year, an average of 3.6 people every week.

Read more: The heavy toll of winter on Toronto’s homeless, from amputations to freezing to death

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A press release from the city said shelters were “critically important” to fill gaps but that the “real solution” is permanent housing.

Staff “will work to match clients with either permanent housing or space in the shelter system that meets their individual needs” when sites are closed, the release said.

City of Toronto staff said they expected to continue to face challenges helping people experiencing homelessness.

The report listed the “uncoordinated release of people from provincial institutions like correctional and health facilities without adequate housing plans” as one issue. It also said economic uncertainty, eviction rates and “worsening” housing affordability could contribute.

City staff said the new temporary shelters had “undoubtedly saved the lives of people experiencing homelessness, some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”

Click to play video: 'Toronto shelter capacity in crisis amid cold, advocates say'
Toronto shelter capacity in crisis amid cold, advocates say

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