A new Toronto Public Health report on people indicated that the city shelter strategy to house people experiencing homelessness in hotel spaces is working. The lease on one of those spaces, the Roehampton Hotel in midtown Toronto could be extended to 2024.
Originally, the lease was set to expire this spring, as a development has already been approved for the site, but according to the city, another year could be in the works.
According to the city, the Roehampton Shelter Hotel remains open and, as of March 19, 2023, there were 151 residents on site.
“On February 7, 2023, Council approved the staff report “COVID-19 Shelter Transition and Relocation Plan Update 2023, which provided authority for staff to extend the leases at most temporary shelter sites until spring 2024. This includes the shelter at 808 Mt Pleasant Road. Negotiations with the landlord are ongoing,” said city spokesperson Anthony Toderian, via email.
The Roehampton site, like many of the city’s hotel/homeless shelters, was not without its share of detractors from the local community when it first opened, but since then, it has been successfully integrated into the community.
“The rollout was incredibly difficult. This city didn’t implement it as well as they should have. There weren’t the wraparound services and the supports necessary to make it successful when it first opened,” said city councillor Josh Matlow, in whose ward the Roehampton is located. “And that’s why I fought very hard to ensure that those services were provided. And those resources were there and worked very closely with the community, the city staff, the mayor at the time, along with our school board, trustee and others, to make sure that we that we got what we need to make it a success.”
But, the hotel strategy, a response to the COVID-19 pandemic could be winding down, despite the positive results.
“The City of Toronto is undertaking a gradual, phased approach to transition out of the temporary shelter sites established in response to COVID-19. The sites currently make up 30% of the total spaces in the City’s shelter system and provide safe shelter to approximately 3,000 people each night,” Toderian added. “A sudden reversal of these spaces is not recommended as it would cause significant disruption to the vital services delivered through the sites and to those who rely on them. Continuing use of temporary shelter sites also helps to respond to demand for shelter services, which remains significantly high.”
Matlow said, the city needs to do more not less.
“The reality is there’s a homelessness crisis in the city. And, people are dying in our streets, and they need a place to go. But, so that’s just critically important. This is above and beyond even interact, or Hampton versus any of the other hotel shelters are permanent shelters. But I also think there there needs to needs to be significant work done on improving all of these shelter spaces, because I’m not satisfied that they have the resources and supports, even today, to make them into the safe and caring environments that the shelter clients need. There’s a reason why so many people decide to stay in our parks, right?”
According to the report, the median age of death of people experiencing homelessness in 2022 was 55 years of age for males and 42 years of age for females. For comparison, the median age for the general population in Toronto is 79 years of age for males and 84 years of age for females.
A spokesperson for Fred Victor, a social service organization working on behalf of the city’s unhoused, had not yet seen the numbers but theorised that the drop could have to do with the changes made by the city during the pandemic.
“All of the shelters went to half-occupancy, and they opened up a bunch of hotels. We are one of the hotel operators, along with a number of other agencies and those hotels provided a kind of a level of shelter that most people hadn’t experienced before,” says Marie McCormack, of Fred Victor. “Also we saw an escalation around cleaning and hygiene and PPE and just vigilance around all of those things. In these kind of pop-up hotel shelters people had their own washroom, they didn’t have to share. And I think health became a real priority.”
The leading cause of death for people in the city experiencing homelessness is drug toxicity, which occurred in 47 per cent of reported deaths.
“This is slightly lower than the 52 per cent reported in 2020 and the 59 per cent reported in 2021,” read the report. “The cause of death is unknown or pending in 29 per cent of cases, therefore deaths due to drug toxicity may rise when pending coroner reports are received.”
Other causes of death, according to the report, are as follows: cardiovascular disease (10 per cent), cancer (5 per cent), unintentional injuries (4 per cent) and suicide (3 per cent).
The report indicates downward trend “may be in part due to harm reduction measures implemented in the City’s shelter system, as well as other factors including the unpredictable nature of the unregulated drug supply and lack of access to safe supply.”
During the pandemic, the city leased space in a number of unoccupied hotels, some of which are ongoing, and some are closing such as the Novotel on the Esplanade.
“In some cases they have been handed back to the the operator, such as in case of the Novotel on Front Street, which is going back to the operator and being converted back into other accommodation of hotel or hotel condominium,” McCormack says. “And the residents that were using it as shelter had to be moved out and transitioned back into the community back into existing shelter. They work to find housing for them, in the case of the Bond Hotel, which is being managed by Dickson Hall, that’s being converted into long-term affordable housing. So, each hotel programme is is a little bit different. I think, the city is, wherever possible, looking at whether or not we can we do something with this great solution that we found as a temporary measure.”