City of Toronto staff report recommends changes to Warming Centre policies and procedures

2023 April 18

A City of Toronto staff report going before the Economic and Community Development Committee on Tuesday, April 25, is recommending revised criteria for activating Warming Centres during the winter response season.

The report recommendations respond to direction given by City Council in February to review current procedures regulating the opening of Warming Centres. Based on the evidence reviewed, as well as the advice of health experts, the report proposes revising criteria for activating Warming Centres from -15 degrees Celsius to -5 degrees Celsius and/or when Environment and Climate Change Canada issues freezing rain, snow squall, winter storm, snowfall and/or blizzard warnings.

The proposed new operating model would no longer necessitate Extreme Cold Weather Alerts (ECWAs).  Beginning in the 2023/2024 winter season, the process would transition from the Medical Officer of Health – who currently declares ECWAs – and consolidate activations into a single process determined by the City’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration team.

These proposed actions are based on feedback from community partners and stakeholders, service users and staff and advice from health experts, including Toronto Public Health (TPH). Implementation of any of these actions would be subject to available space, staffing and budget.

The 2023 approved City Budget allocates funding of $16.2 million for Winter Services Response, which includes funding for winter response Warming Centre spaces between January 1 and April 15, 2023 and November 15 and December 31, 2023. In the absence of future funding commitments from the federal and provincial governments, no funding will be available for the Warming Centre spaces starting January 1, 2024. Therefore, the staff report recommends that Council request $5 million in funding from the federal and provincial governments to continue the delivery of these services beyond December 31, 2023. This funding will allow the City to open and operate one Warming Centre location on a 24/7 basis, as well as additional weather-based Warming Centre spaces in January to April 2024 and November to December 2024.

The shelter system continues to face increasing pressures. Availability of and access to affordable, supportive housing remains the solution to ending chronic homelessness in Toronto. To help between 1,600 and 2,000 households exit the shelter system and move into permanent housing, the report recommends that Council request the federal and provincial governments urgently allocate an additional $20 million in Canada-Ontario Housing Benefits (COHB) in 2023-2024. The COHB is a portable housing benefit that can be used across the province and has proven to be a cost-effective and efficient way to assist people to leave the shelter system and access permanent housing.

The City is committed to making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring – but it can’t do it alone. New and enhanced investments in housing and health and social services are critical to support those experiencing homelessness, along with upstream interventions across systems and across governments to address the root causes of poverty and homelessness, including increasing access to affordable housing and income supports that reflect the current cost of living.

The full staff report is available on the City’s website .

Members of the public who wish to make their views known about this matter can submit comments or request to speak before the Committee. The report is expected to go before Council during Council’s May meeting.