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Enquiry Report: Cold Weather Drop-In Services City of Toronto 2016-17 Winter Season

The Issue

On December 19, 2016, the CBC radio program, “Metro Morning,” featured an interview with a well-known social activist and street nurse about Toronto’s cold weather response for people who are experiencing homelessness. Specific concerns raised included: 

  • Insufficient emergency shelter spaces, leaving homeless people outside in the cold;
  • The need for the City to ask the federal government to open the armouries in order to meet the need for more spaces.   

Our Enquiry

As a result of this and other media coverage, we decided on our own initiative to conduct an Enquiry.

We focussed on the question of whether SSHA had acted reasonably in its consideration of available information and making decisions about cold weather drop-in capacity for the 2016-2017 winter season. Our goal was to explore any areas in which we might recommend improvements to the delivery of these important services to vulnerable people in Toronto. 

As a part of this Enquiry, we:

  • Visited three cold weather drop-ins, a Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre, and Toronto’s largest emergency shelter for men, Seaton House
  • Spoke with staff, including Executive Directors and operational staff, and drop-in clients
  • Reviewed intake and referral, street outreach, and respite procedures.

What We Found

Our Enquiry found fairness issues with the City’s cold weather drop-in capacity and contingency planning, as well as its communication with the public.

Our Recommendations

We made the following recommendations:  

  • In consultation with the cold weather drop-in operators, determine a reasonable, healthy, dignified, safe and firm maximum capacity for each cold weather drop-in site, and formalize contingencies in place and protocols to be followed should those numbers be exceeded.        
  • SSHA directly communicate with the public in response to the concerns raised in the public sphere that there was not enough space for individuals who are homeless to come inside on a cold night.       
  • SSHA management engage with the research team at St. Michael’s Hospital that is undertaking an ongoing longitudinal study of Margaret’s drop-in service.     

The City’s Response

The City accepted the recommendations and committed to implementing them.