Following a recent enquiry into two aspects of the City of Toronto’s Winter Respite Services, the Toronto Ombudsman made several recommendations to improve both internal and public facing communications as well as enhancements to conditions in several such facilities.
The Ombudsman found that the information the City provided to the public about Winter Respite sites was “overwhelmingly outdated, inaccurate and inconsistent.” The Ombudsman visited several Winter Respite sites and found divergent levels of service and unacceptable conditions in some instances: some sites did not have showers; some had between 1 and 5 showers, only 3 had ramps, elevators and accessible toileting facilities and none had cots or beds able to accommodate someone with mobility challenges.
The ombudsman made numerous recommendations both during and after the enquiry- all of which have been accepted by the city. These include:
Require all staff to use the same terminology which should be clear and user friendly;
Clarify the role of 311, Central Intake and the Streets to Home Access and Referral Centre;
Develop a system to share up-to-date information on occupancy of Winter Respite sites;
Implement ongoing monitoring of standards at Winter Respite sites (structural issues, temperature checks, security etc.);
Develop a minimum standard for conditions in Winter Respite sites and work with community agencies to enforce them.
The city’s Winter Respite Centres were originally invisioned as a “Band-Aid on a Band-Aid” but have become an integral part of the City’s shelter system. They represent a low-barrier space for the homeless community to access services and shelter.