24/7 Toronto homeless shelters increase turnout

Published On March 3, 2016 | By HN Staff | News
The City of Toronto's 59 shelter locations were used by more than 16,000 homeless people in 2015. (Matthew Woitunski/Creative Commons)

The City of Toronto’s 59 shelter locations were used by more than 16,000 homeless people in 2015. (Matthew Woitunski/Creative Commons)

Ali Amad

A 24/7 pilot service by two Toronto homeless shelters led to a surge in occupancy this winter, new data shows.

The pilot was launched at Margaret’s Toronto East Drop-In Centre and St. Felix Centre, offering continuous service for January and February.

More than 12,000 and 13,000 homeless people were served at St. Felix Centre and Margaret’s respectively during that time period, according to Metronews.

Those numbers are significantly higher than the average monthly occupancy of approximately 4,000 for Toronto’s permanent emergency shelter system so far this year.

The two shelters were open during extreme cold weather alerts between mid-November and mid-April before this winter, but added the continuous 24-hour service for January and February starting in 2016.

“We’re located at the microcosm of all that ails Toronto…and folks knew that they could go there at any time and get shelter,” – Diane Walter, Executive Director of Margaret’s Housing and Community Support Services

Margaret’s drop-in centre is in a sensitive area of the city, near the downtown intersection of Sherbourne Street and Dundas Street East.

Diane Walter, Executive Director of Margaret’s Housing and Community Support Services, believes there are two main reasons behind the increased turnout: location and consistency.

“It’s all about access,” Walter told Humber News.

“We’re located at the microcosm of all that ails Toronto,” she said, adding that “folks knew that they could go there at any time and get shelter.”

The shelter saw an increase in numbers of black and Aboriginal clients during the pilot, according to Walter.

“We have not had a chance yet to unpack what that means or why that is so,” she said, adding that an increased number of women also stayed at Margaret’s.

Funding was specifically allotted by the City of Toronto for the two-month 24/7 trial.

“It’s something in the order of $480,000 for the two services,” said Patricia Anderson, Partnership Development and Support manager at Shelter, Support and Housing Administration.

Anderson said the primary reason for increasing service during those critical winter months was an “abundance of concern” for homeless people with nowhere else to go. She added that the service would be provided again in 2017.

In addition to those shelters, the housing administration funds two year-round 24/7 shelters for women and one for youths run by the YMCA that operates around the clock until mid-April.

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