Patterns and Intensity of Use of Homeless Shelters in Toronto [2018]

A large administrative data set allows us to examine shelter use by single adults, youth, and families in Toronto. We find important differences in shelter use by single adults, youth, and families. We introduce an approach that allows us to identify a noticeable increase in the percentage of shelter clients whom we define as chronic users of the shelter system—people for whom each episode of shelter use is typically very long. This should be a concern because chronic users of the system, although they make up only a small fraction of all shelter clients, fill more than 40 percent of shelter capacity. A growing number of chronic shelter users will strain the ability of the shelter system to provide shelter to those seeking temporary relief while they re-establish themselves into housing. Homeless shelters are a response to a serious social problem. They are not the cause of nor are they the solution to that problem. Growing shelter use is an indication of a social order in trouble.

Ali Jadidzadeh, Ron Kneebone
Canadian Public Policy, December 18, 2018