The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has reported an increase in the number of homeless people seeking shelter in its stations during the cold snaps that have hit the city this winter. The TTC says it is working with the city and other agencies to provide support and assistance to those in need.
TTC staff observe more homeless people in stations
According to TTC spokesman Stuart Green, the staff observe between 30 and 60 homeless people per day in transit stations during cold weather months, compared to eight to 10 the rest of the year. He says these figures are estimates based on current and historical data.
Green says the TTC staff are trained to identify and approach homeless people in a respectful and compassionate manner, and offer them information and referrals to shelters, warming centres, and other services. He says the TTC also works closely with the city’s Streets to Homes program, which sends outreach workers to the stations to connect with homeless people and help them find housing options.
The TTC does not force homeless people to leave the stations, unless they pose a safety or security risk to themselves or others. Green says the TTC recognizes that some homeless people may prefer to stay in the stations, especially during extreme weather conditions, and respects their right to do so.
City faces capacity challenges at shelters and warming centres
The TTC’s report comes as the city continues to face capacity challenges at its shelters and warming centres, which have been operating at or near full occupancy this winter. The city has said it plans to open a new site to help keep vulnerable residents warm when temperatures drop to -15 C, after its four warming centres were at capacity over the weekend.
The city has opened additional shelter space, expanded its warming centres’ operations, and opened new 24-hour respite sites this winter. However, some advocates and critics have argued that the city’s response is inadequate and does not meet the demand or the standards of dignity and safety for homeless people.
City councillors had voted last year to lower the threshold for when warming centres will be opened to -5 C or when freezing rain, snow or storm warnings are issued. Warming centres opened last winter only when temperatures dipped to -15 C or -20 C in Toronto.
Homelessness crisis worsens amid pandemic
The homelessness crisis in Toronto has worsened amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected low-income and marginalized communities. According to the city’s latest data, there were 7,922 people staying in the shelter system as of January 16, 2024, up from 6,696 on the same date last year.
The pandemic has also increased the health risks and challenges for homeless people, who are more likely to have underlying medical conditions and face barriers to accessing health care and testing. Several outbreaks of COVID-19 have occurred in shelters and encampments, resulting in infections and deaths among homeless people and staff.
The city has been vaccinating homeless people and shelter workers as part of its immunization plan, but the pace and scope of the rollout have been criticized by some advocates and experts. They have called for more resources and coordination to ensure that homeless people are prioritized and protected from the virus.