Join us tomorrow (January 31) for our press conference covering the Winter Respite Centre Report!

What: Press Conference by Healthcare Providers Against Poverty to Release Report on Conditions Within Winter Respite Centres

Where: City Hall – City of Toronto, 2nd floor  

When: January 31, 2018, 12:30 – 1PM (Meet at 12:15)

Speakers will include: Introduction by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam; Person with lived experience (TBA); Michaela Beder, MD, Psychiatrist, Member of HPAP; Cathy Crowe, RN; Patricia O’Connell, Executive Director, Sistering.

What to bring: Healthcare provider-identifying gear!

Press Release: Toronto’s shelter system is in an undeclared state of emergency. Each night, up to 770 people are unable to obtain a bed in our overcrowded shelter system and sleep instead on mats, floors, chairs, and cots. The City’s solution to the overcrowded shelter system has been to open temporary Winter Respite Centres, also known as “warming centres.” As healthcare providers who regularly work with low-income and homeless populations, we are alarmed by the conditions of these centres, and the lack of planning and prioritization for those who are homeless from all levels of government.

From mid-December 2017 to mid-January 2018, Health Providers Against Poverty (HPAP) visited eight Winter Respite Centres, as well as the two 24-hour Drop-ins for Women and Trans People, to assess standards, and survey clients and staff. Our key findings and recommendations have been published in a report titled: “An Evaluation of Toronto’s Warming Centres & Winter Response to Homelessness” available on the Health Providers Against Poverty website: 

Our investigation demonstrates that Winter Respite Centres fail to meet the most basic standards set out by the United Nations and by the City. Notes Dr. Beder: “We were shocked by our findings. Overcrowding, poor access to hygiene facilities, lack of privacy and safety, disruptive sleeping environments, inadequate sleep surfaces and violence all have significant impacts on the health and wellbeing of those who access the Winter Respite Centres.”

While agencies hosting Winter Respite Centres are providing an essential service and doing their best, they simply do not have the facilities and resources to meet the overwhelming need. As an interim action, until enough shelter beds can be opened, the City must ensure that 1,000 beds or cots with mattresses remain open all year in respite facilities that can meet basic standards. Further, within the next year, 1,500 shelter beds are urgently needed to bring shelter occupancy below 90%.

“Our survey results reflect what service users, grassroots activists, and healthcare and social service providers have been saying for too long” notes Dr. Samantha Green. “Our most vulnerable community members deserve more. The current state of homelessness in our city has become a matter of life and death.”

For a full list of recommendations, see the report at

Or contact us at:

Media contacts:

Dr. Michaela Beder, Psychiatrist

Dr. Samantha Green, Family Physician

Quick Facts:

  • Since 2015, Toronto’s permanent emergency shelter system has seen a 19% increase in usage.
  • The Toronto Homeless Memorial, which tracks and publishes information on the number of deaths in the City related to homelessness, lists the names of 898 individuals that have died since 1989. This list underestimates the number of deaths, as tracking of homeless deaths remains poor.
  • Between January 1, 2017 and September 30, 2017, there were a record 70 homeless deaths, averaging 1.8 deaths per week. By the end of December 2017, that number had risen to 94 homeless deaths.
  • Since 1996, Toronto’s shelter system has been at capacity. The City’s shelter occupancy target of 90% is regularly exceeded.  In co-ed, men’s, women’s, and youth shelters, occupancy rates are consistently between 95% and 99%.
  • According to a 2007 Toronto report, those who are homeless are 29 times more likely to have hepatitis C, 20 times more likely to have epilepsy, 5 times more likely to have heart disease, and 4 times more likely to have cancer.

Quick selection of our findings:

  • Respite centre users reported an average of 4 hours of sleep per night.
  • Many who need a shelter bed cannot access one. 82% of people who tried to access a shelter bed in the past year reported that they were turned away at least once because shelters were full.
  • Almost unanimously, clients reported that facility conditions negatively impact their health. Clients cited general stress; lack of safety, violence, and threat of violence; frequent episodes of theft; overcrowding; poor access to showers; frequent viral outbreaks and inadequate conditions.
  • Almost 70% of clients interviewed reported witnessing verbal, physical, or sexual violence while another 46% reported experiencing violence.

Quick selection of our recommendations to the City of Toronto:

  • Shelter occupancy: Ensure the City meets the 90% occupancy target in every shelter sector (including men, women, coed, youth, and family). To do so, the City must open at least 1,500 new shelter beds in the women, men, co-ed, and youth sectors.
  • Harm reduction: To prevent overdose deaths, the City must train all shelter and drop-instaff in recognizing and treating drug overdoses; the City must create a harm reduction-friendly culture where shelter or drop-in users can report drug use to staff and be monitored without fear of service restriction.
  • Interim all-season emergency measures: A total of 1,000 beds in facilities like gymnasiums, community centres, and armouries must be available year-round until enough shelters are opened to bring occupancy to 90%. These facilities must adhere to shelter standards, and offer showers, adequate bathrooms, proper sleep surfaces (beds or cots with mattresses), locked storage for personal items and medications, and at least 2.5 feet between sleep surfaces.
  • Tax Revenue: The funding needed to adequately fund shelters and housing must be generated by increasing tax revenue from wealthy residents and developers and should not be taken from the budgets of existing social programs.
  • Healthcare: Ensure all shelters have on-site healthcare, including nursing, personal support workers, and physician support.
  • Housing: Rapidly expand access to social rent-geared-to income housing and repair existing TCHC units, with the collaboration of the provincial and federal governments. The City should aim to exceed its target of 1,000 new affordable rental housing units a year. Ensure 20% of units in all new multi-unit residential developments are permanently rent-geared to-income and affordable for people relying on social assistance and Old Age Security. Build more supportive and mental health housing units.