City of Toronto shelters strengthen response to COVID-19

News Release             

March 17, 2020

City of Toronto shelters strengthen response to COVID-19

This afternoon, Mary-Anne Bédard, General Manager of the City’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA), announced the City is strengthening prevention and response to COVID-19 in our emergency shelter system. There are currently no cases of COVID-19 in Toronto’s shelter system.

SSHA is responding to COVID-19 with a three-tier approach. First, it is creating the ability for additional social distancing spacing within the existing shelter system through creation of new programs. The first spaces opened yesterday and by the end of this week the plan is for 200 spaces within City facilities that are currently empty. This will not create additional capacity in our shelters, but will allow the City to move people within existing programs, particularly the 24-hour respite sites and 24-hour drop-ins.

Second, the City is creating additional isolation spaces for people identified through screening and assessment processes that are awaiting test results. This process has been initiated and the City continues to move people who need it over this week into isolation.

SSHA is using Toronto Public Health’s recommended screening questions at all points of entry by phone or in-person for all those seeking shelter. Anyone wanting to access the shelter system who should be assessed for COVID-19 is being referred to one of the Province's assessment centres.

People who are experiencing homelessness who are being tested for COVID-19 will not be admitted into our regular shelter system. Instead, they will be isolated in separate spaces at a designated program location. This is the first program of its kind in Canada, as a medically supported isolation service for people who are homeless while they wait to receive their test results.

On the third tier, the City is working with its provincial partners to identify an appropriate service for people who have tested positive for COVID-19.

To date, no one has tested positive in the shelter system and the City is working hard to ensure it has a program available should that occur, and that it has the appropriate medical supports in place to protect staff, community partners and those it serves.

Another vulnerable group the City serves are newcomers and refugee claimants who request access to emergency shelter. In Toronto, each week, there are an average of 100 new refugee claimants who access the shelter system. The actions that the federal government took yesterday to close the border with some exceptions will likely reduce the number of refugees entering the shelter system.

Toronto is asking the federal government to screen and quarantine anyone who has entered the country in the past 14 days at the border, particularly those who have nowhere to go through their own means where they will be able to self-isolate. In the meantime, for people who have entered the country within the past 14 days who present themselves in Toronto seeking temporary shelter, the City is in the process of setting up 200 beds for self-isolation purposes.

In addition, working closely with TPH, the City has provided staff at all City-run shelters, as well as its partners, with advice on enhanced Infection, Prevention & Control and cleaning measures.

Please check for details and updates as they are made.

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