City data shows 110 unhoused people died last year in Toronto homeless shelters

Seaton House, a homeless shelter in downtown Toronto, is pictured here on Jan. 9, 2022. (Robert Krbavac/CBC - image credit)
Seaton House, a homeless shelter in downtown Toronto, is pictured here on Jan. 9, 2022. (Robert Krbavac/CBC - image credit)

A total of 110 people died in Toronto's homeless shelter system last year, according to figures released by the city on Friday.

Eighty-one of the people who died were men and 29 were women.

The city says the average age of the shelter residents who died was 51. For men, the average age at death was 52, while for women, the average age at death was 49.

Advocates say the number raises questions about the safety of the shelter system and represents only a portion of the total number of unhoused people who died in the city in 2022. They say it doesn't include those who died on the streets, in hospitals, in detox centres or in jails. And they say it reflects the toxicity of the city's drug supply.

"The number is mind-bogglingly high," Gru, a formerly homeless person, told CBC Toronto on Friday night.

"We know that homelessness leads to early death and leads to health complications. It then stands to reason that if we were to house people, we wouldn't be seeing these deaths."

Gru, one of the organizers of the Toronto Homeless Memorial, said the only thing that will lower the number is housing. The memorial, outside the Church of the Holy Trinity downtown, honours those who have died while experiencing homelessness in Toronto.

"Shelters have never been safe spaces," he said. "Advocates have been saying for, at this point, decades that the goal actually needs to be to house people instead of just to warehouse them in these congregate spaces."

Homelessness is a health emergency, advocate says

Cathy Crowe, a longtime street nurse and a current advocate for unhoused people, said it is time for Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city's medical officer of health, to declare homelessness to be a public health emergency in Toronto. She said a wartime effort by all three levels of government to get people housed is needed immediately.

"The fact that even one person dies in a shelter in a month should be cause for an inquiry," she said.

Muriel Draaisma/CBC
Muriel Draaisma/CBC

Crowe said when the Toronto Homeless Memorial was created more than 20 years ago, advocates would add one, two or three names a month to the memorial. So far this January, 15 names have been added to the memorial in recognition of those who've died in the months prior.

"We know that shelters are crowded, we know that they are unsafe, we know that people have deep, deep health needs and the average age of death is young," she said.

Crowe added that the number of deaths is "under-reported" in Toronto.

Toronto Mayor John Tory and Gordon Tanner, acting general manager of the city's Shelter Support and Housing Administration division, could not be reached for comment on Friday night.

On its website, the city says: "Higher rates of illness and premature death among the homeless population have been widely recognized. The City is committed to identifying and responding in a timely manner to new and emerging issues in the shelter system."

The total number of shelter deaths in 2022 is less than the total number in 2021. That year, 132 people died in Toronto's shelter system.

Nearly 9,000 people stayed in shelters on Thursday

On its webpage listing the deaths of shelter residents, the city says the deaths occurred in shelters funded by the city, but it doesn't say which ones and it doesn't release cause of death.

"For reasons of client privacy and respect for confidentiality, even in death, we are not able to provide names, dates of birth, place of death, or any other information that might identify the deceased," the city says.

Toronto Public Health (TPH) tracks the overall number of deaths of people experiencing homelessness in the city in a separate database. That number includes the number of people who died in shelters, on the street, or at other locations.

According to TPH, a total of 92 unhoused people have died in Toronto from January to June 2022 — an average of 3.5 people per week. The number for the last six months of the year has not yet been released.

According to the city's daily shelter and overnight service usage webpage, a total of 8,965 people used the its shelters on Thursday. But according to its shelter system requests for referrals data, an average of 108 people a night were unable to secure a shelter bed in December.

"We are not doing a very good job as a city," Crowe said.