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Feedback from Homeless Residents Informs Policy and Program Development in Toronto

Toronto, ON, Canada

At a Glance

To address the needs of the growing homeless population, The City of Toronto conducted a 24-hour point-in-time count and survey to gather information about homeless residents. The results of the assessment informed policy and program development under the Shelter, Support, & Housing Administration.

Problem Addressed

With a population of over 2.7 million people, Toronto is the largest city in Canada. As a result of its large population, the city has struggled to increase its supply of housing to match the needs of its residents. In the past 10 years, the average market rent for a one bedroom unit has increased 33%, while low vacancy rates and a lack of new rental and affordable housing are also contributing factors. In turn, the homeless population of Toronto has also begun to rise. On any given night, over 8,000 people are without homes in Toronto, either sleeping on the streets, in shelters, or health and correctional facilities.

Starting in 2006, The City of Toronto has performed a Street Needs Assessment every 3 to 5 years to identify the scope of the city’s homeless population and learn from the city's homeless residents what programs and assistance would make the most impact. The assessment itself is a city-wide point-in-time count and survey of people experiencing homelessness led by the city’s Shelter, Support, and Housing Administration (SSHA). The assessment is meant to to give people a voice in identifying what support and services they need to get back on their feet, and using that data to improve services and programs for people experiencing homelessness in Toronto. People who are surveyed are either staying outdoors, in city-administered shelters or motels, in city-administered 24-hour respite sites, or in provincially administered shelters or health/treatment/correctional facilities.The final report generated from the assessment is useful in better communicating to the general public the issue of homelessness and creating understanding.

In the most recent report before 2018 conducted in 2013, there were an estimated 5,253 people who were homeless in Toronto, including both those with and without shelter. With that number sure to be higher in 2018, it was crucial that the government utilize the data collected in the Street Needs Assessments to make meaningful improvements that helped homeless individuals off of the street.

City of Toronto used/is using a point-in-time count and survey to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

In 2018, the count of Toronto’s homeless population was part of the federal government’s national coordinated point-in-time count and was funded in part by the Government of Canada. With the participation of 378 trained volunteers and 166 team leads, the city was able to interview over 2,000 individuals experiencing homelessness. To ensure that interviews were carried out with sensitivity, Indigenous team leads were introduced and Indigenous Cultural Safety training for all participants was provided. After the counts of interviewed individuals experiencing homeless were finalized, a calculated adjustment was made to account for those individuals not encountered but experiencing homelessness on the night of April 26.

The primary purpose of the SNA is not only to understand the scope of homelessness in Toronto but also to learn more about the characteristics and service needs of the population to inform program and service delivery. The point-in-time count of Toronto’s homeless population was estimated to be 8,715 individuals. Of that number, a significant number of individuals are from disenfranchised groups. Making up only 2.5% of the Toronto population, and 16% of the overall homeless population, Indigenous individuals are overrepresented in the homeless population, and report longer periods of homelessness compared to non-indigenous people. Additionally, a significant percentage of respondents identified as black, and 1 in every 4 homeless youths identified as LGBTQ2S. Learning about these inequities in the homeless populations gives the City of Toronto, and Canada as a whole, better data to implement solutions. To address the differing needs of the city's homeless population, the city developed the "Meeting in the Middle Indigenous Engagement Strategy and Action Plan" with Indigenous community partners to create actionable progress on addressing Indigenous homelessness in Toronto. On this same note, the city created two new homeless shelters geared toward LGBTQ2S individuals.

According to the survey, the primary reported causes of homelessness are migration, inability to pay the cost of housing, and eviction. The average length of time homeless reported was 7 months, and 94% of respondents indicated a desire to get into permanent housing. With that in mind, the survey asked which services would be most important to help find housing. Among the most popular answers were: increased social assistance rates, making affordable housing more available, help finding an affordable place, help with housing applications, and transportation to see apartments. Based on survey responses, affordability was the most significant challenge in helping people move out of shelters. The city took the survey responses and implemented the provincial Home for Good program to create housing with support for 2,000 people experiencing homelessness, funded by $90 million over three years.

Outcomes

  1. Results gathered from 2018 data will inform the Shelter, Support, and Housing Administration (SSHA) five-year service plan.
  2. 1,000 new shelter beds will be created by 2020 – with 102 available by the end of 2018 and approximately 300 confirmed for 2019.
  3. Development of the Meeting in the Middle Indigenous Engagement Strategy and Action Plan with Indigenous community partners to meaningfully address Indigenous homelessness in Toronto.
  4. The additions of YMCA Sprott House, opened in 2016, and Egale Centre, opened in 2019, to better address the needs of LGBTQ2S individuals experiencing homelessness.
  5. Implementation of the provincial Home for Good program to create housing with support for 2,000 people experiencing homelessness, funded by $90 million over three years.

Something Unique

The city's addition of Indigenous team leads and Indigenous Cultural Safety training to the protocol from past SNA's showed an emphasis on inclusion.

Who Should Consider?

Cities unsure of what measures to take to address homelessness and to get homeless residents off the street.

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