The Toronto Shelter Network and Dixon Hall recently conducted an in-depth study to understand the impact of the pandemic on people facing homelessness. Over 250 shelter users from more than 10 different shelters in the GTA were surveyed.
Three common themes emerged:
the need for privacy
the support to housing services
access to basic needs
According to 56% of participants, sleeping in a private room, rather than a shared dorm was a positive result that took place during COVID 19; 25% of participants reported they had not received any support to obtain or keep housing; and 22% of participants stated that their basic needs had not been met.
People facing homelessness experience untold stigma and systemic inequities and barriers. For Indigenous peoples, Black people, LGBTQ2S+ people, women, refuges, youth and men, the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified systemic inequities which has been propelled by racism. With racialized groups being particularly vulnerable to homelessness, the black population comprises an estimated 40% of the unhoused population in Toronto and makes up the largest racial demographic in the shelter system. As well, despite making up only four per cent of Canada’s population, Indigenous people are overrepresented in the unhoused population in every major city making up 16% of the shelter users in the system.
With an increase of 50% more Torontonians seeking housing support this year, there is the need for a diverse approach to all shelter system planning. Women make up 34% of the shelter population in Toronto and women under 16 years of age account for 50% of the total unhoused population. Focusing on these at-risk intersections is a good place to begin. In addition to the homelessness we see, hidden homelessness is a reality for many. Being reluctant to use the shelter system, many individuals seek out couches of friends, tents, and any other forms of shelter outside of the system itself. Along with this, on any given night in Toronto there are up to 2,000 homeless youth. We also see 43.5% of refugees reported earning less than $10,000 a year. As a result, it takes over seven months for refugees to find housing.
As the shelter system continues to evolve to ensure there are a range of options available for diverse and emerging populations, there is a need to embed programming that promotes wellbeing and fosters both belonging and community into the shelter model. Most impactfully, 44% of respondents reported that the most important consideration when searching for shelter is community. With the Red Door always emphasising community, the importance of this is at an all time high. Homeless individuals with even short stays in shelters like the Red Door have had greater successes once they transition to permanent housing. People experiencing homelessness have been hit hard during these past three waves of the pandemic, however, these findings suggest that shelter providers can leverage the unique moment afforded by the COVID-19 pandemic to work towards the common goal of ending homelessness. As a result of limited affordable housing and increasing homelessness in Toronto and to best leverage our current pandemic conditions, the HousingTO action plan created by the City of Toronto is working toward ending chronic homelessness between 2025 and 2028.
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