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City Ombudsman Recommends Changes to Winter Respite Services for the Homeless

The City of Toronto Ombudsman says the City gave people experiencing homelessness and the general public outdated, inaccurate and inconsistent information this winter about critically important services.
Susan Opler today released the report of Ombudsman Toronto’s Enquiry into the City of Toronto’s Winter Respite services during the 2017-2018 winter season. “We found that in at least two cases, staff gave callers incorrect information about capacity at the Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place. It is only reasonable to infer that they gave out this sort of misinformation in more instances than just the ones we investigated.”
Ombudsman Toronto found that staff at the City’s Central Intake call centre and 311 information service relied on outdated information about locations and capacity of its Winter Respite sites. The City also created confusion by using at least 12 different terms for them, including “24/7 winter respite service”, “respite drop-ins” and “winter overnight services.”
Toronto’s Ombudsman also found an unacceptable disparity in the services offered at different locations. “It was much too cold – only 11 to 14 degrees celsius – inside one of the Winter Respite sites,” says Opler. “Some had no showers. Most had no ramps, elevators or accessible toilet facilities. None had beds or cots to accommodate people with mobility challenges. I am pleased to see that Toronto’s Shelter Support and Housing Administration division (SSHA) has already begun developing standards for the Winter Respite sites, which are essential to providing fair service.”
“Ombudsman Toronto made nine recommendations before we even finished our Enquiry,” says Opler, “because the Winter Respite sites provide such an important, time sensitive service for people experiencing homelessness in Toronto.” Those included implementing regular temperature and maintenance checks at all locations.

The Ombudsman’s report makes nine additional recommendations. They include that the City:

  • develop a system for sharing up to date Winter Respite occupancy information
  • require all staff to use the same terminology
  • clarify the roles of 311, Central Intake and the Streets to Homes Assessment  and Referral Centre (SHARC)
  • improve its collection and use of data for intake and planning
  • consult with people using the services, agencies, stakeholders and professionals working on behalf of the homeless on ways to improve Winter Respite services.

The City and SSHA have accepted all the Ombudsman’s findings and have agreed to implement all of the remaining recommendations.
The Ombudsman Toronto report, Enquiry into City of Toronto Winter Respite Services, 2017-18 Winter Season and an Ombudsman Toronto backgrounder are available on request.

For more information, contact:
Alex DiGioseffo
Access and Education Assistant
Ombudsman Toronto

Ombudsman Toronto listens to and investigates people’s complaints and concerns about City administration and the fairness of City services. We are a free and impartial office that operates independently from the City, holding it accountable to the people it serves.