Update on City of Toronto’s encampment outreach services with release of the Dufferin Grove report

2023 June 9

The City of Toronto is sharing its latest update on encampments and homelessness. Using a Housing First approach, the City saw approximately 700 residents move from emergency shelters into permanent housing in May, more than any other month in the past two years.

All Toronto shelters work from this Housing First approach to ensure that shelter service delivery is premised on the idea that stable housing is the primary need for individuals or families experiencing homelessness.

The City is applying the learnings of the Dufferin Grove report to its encampment outreach work and Housing First approach to encourage people to move from encampments to the emergency shelter system and permanent supportive housing.

The City is also committed to strengthening its Housing First approach to street and encampment outreach and providing wrap-around, client-centred case management supports to people living outdoors.

The Dufferin Grove model

Released in March this year, Toronto Ombudsman Kwame Addo’s report Investigation into the City’s Clearings of Encampments in 2021 contained 23 recommendations, which the City Manager agreed to implement. The Ombudsman’s report is available here. 

Among the recommendations was that the City release a report identifying key learnings from outreach efforts at Dufferin Grove Park. Today, the City released its report A Housing First approach for encampments: Findings from Dufferin Grove Park. The report, which examines an encampment outreach model implemented in Dufferin Grove Park between August and December 2021, is available on the City’s website .

The Dufferin Grove model enhanced existing outreach efforts at the park by having City staff work collaboratively with community partners at the advisory and operational levels, to bring comprehensive social and health service supports directly to the park to help reduce service barriers and promote client self-determination. An encampment prevention strategy helped ensure that no new encampments were added to the park so that outreach efforts could focus on better relationship building with known clients.

As a result of the approach, 90 people at Dufferin Grove Park had successful outcomes including referrals to shelter programs, transitions to permanent housing or family reunification. A total of 101 tents or structures were removed, as all encampment occupants left the park with successful outcomes or moved voluntarily.

Applying best practices

The City is incorporating the learnings from its Dufferin Grove report into its approach as it considers best practices beyond the Dufferin Grove Park initiative. The key learnings have been critical to informing the City’s ongoing response to larger encampments and to successfully meeting the needs of people living within them.

Best practices identified through the report are being used daily to inform approaches used by the City’s Streets to Homes and the Encampment Office to support outreach efforts at other encampments, as well as to inform the development and update of the City’s Interdepartmental Service Protocol for Homeless People Camping in Public Spaces.

Unprecedented demand for shelter in Toronto

Since 2016, the number of shelter spaces in Toronto has expanded by 125 per cent, from approximately 4,000 to 9,000 spaces needed daily. The City is providing more shelter beds per capita than any other municipality in Canada. Despite adding more than 1,000 shelter spaces last year, the system remains at capacity most nights. In 2023 outreach staff and community partners have seen 352 occupants successfully referred to the shelter system from encampments and 57 people from encampments moved into successful housing tenancies.

To replicate the Dufferin Grove approach at other parks, there must be:

  • Dedicated housing and shelter options available
  • Dedicated staff from various City divisions, local community partners, resident groups and volunteers
  • Onsite community supports to provide the critical services
  • A park with a size and location that enables City staff and partners to co-locate an intensive level of resources

New and enhanced investments are urgently needed from the Government of Canada and Province of Ontario to fully replicate the Dufferin Grove approach at other parks, while increasing the supply of deeply affordable rental housing with harm reduction and mental health supports. In addition to new housing supply and support services, investments in homelessness prevention programs and poverty reduction measures are necessary.

The City is facing significant financial challenges and its Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) division has a 2023 operating budget shortfall of $414 million. Recognizing the urgent need for funding, in May 2023, Toronto City Council voted to declare a homelessness emergency in Toronto and urged the provincial and federal governments to provide critical funding for shelter services and to invest in additional Canada-Ontario Housing Benefits.

The City cannot force people to come inside and use the many services offered in shelters, but it continues to encourage people to accept offers of available, shelter and housing options. As of June 1, there has been a reduction in 463 encampments across the city this year. Since 2020, there has been a reduction of 5,369 encampments from parks or greenspaces in the city.