Toronto shelter hotel overspending of $13 million could have paid for 52,000 nights for the homeless

The City of Toronto has spent $13.2 million over two years on emergency hotel shelters, according to a tax audit by the city’s auditor general.

Money intended for housing assistance has instead been used to pay a host of hotel costs, says the auditor general. This is despite the fact that the contracts exclude these charges.

In two years, $5.4 million was spent on hotel room vacancy charges, $5.3 million was spent on hotel surcharges on meal bills, and $2.4 million were attributed to “DMF” charges, although there was disagreement among those interviewed during the audit as to whether this was a resort tax or other unclear hotel charge. The audit notes that hotels stopped including this charge in January 2022.

“Every dollar and every chamber matters,” Auditor General Beverley Romeo-Beehler said in her report, which is expected to be discussed by the audit committee next week. It is expected to be presented to City Council on June 15.

The millions spent could have covered the cost of 52,000 overnight stays for the city’s homeless residents, the audit found, as well as meals and support services “for an entire year”.

Instead, hotels added the extras to their bills and city officials paid for them, the audit found. According to the audit, “some staff” processing the invoices did not appear to be aware of the appropriate contracts or fees.

‘My jaw dropped,’ says shelter hotel resident

“You have to make sure you’re billed according to the contract, otherwise what’s the point of having one,” City Coun said. Stephen Holyday, who chairs the Audit Committee.

“Everyone understands that during COVID it was a stressful time for the city, but there’s an old saying… haste is wasteful,” he said. “We need to figure out how best to manage contracts across the city.”

While the pandemic was certainly a complicating factor, the Auditor General was careful to note that in some cases: “These incorrect amounts were billed even before the pandemic.”

“My jaw dropped,” Gru, a shelter hotel resident whose legal name is Jesse Allan, told CBC News.

“Fifteen million dollars gets a lot of apartments for a whole year,” he said – “real apartments, what most people on the street need.”

Among its recommendations, Romeo-Beehler suggests that the city develop an appropriate system for reviewing its invoices to ensure that payments meet contractual terms. She also suggests that the city’s Corporate Real Estate Management division take responsibility for hotel contracts so that the Shelter, Support & Housing Administration division “can focus on providing core services.”

The audit notes that its recommendations are aimed at “ensuring that money goes towards creating more places in shelters or creating permanent housing solutions for people who are homeless”.

‘That’s why we have an Auditor General’: Tory

In a statement, Mayor John Tory said, “That’s why we have an Auditor General” and that city staff will “act” on his recommendations.

“I will ensure that … we do everything we can to recover any costs that should not have been charged to the City,” he said.

Although the Auditor General serves as an important check on accountability, Cathy Crowe, a longtime street nurse and housing advocate, says it’s ultimately up to senior city officials “to do a better job.”

Last year was one of the deadliest for homeless people in Toronto since Toronto Public Health began tracking in 2017. In 2021, 216 people died, 132 of whom resided in homeless shelters. shelter.

To cope with the physical distancing requirements of the pandemic, the city has opened 42 temporary shelters, including in hotels.

But COVID-19 outbreaks, food quality issues, and other issues have made some shelters not “adapted” to life, led some homeless residents to take refuge in municipal parks. Attempts to clear some of these encampments last summer become violent.

Encampment supporters defend a group of tents as Toronto police enforce an eviction order at Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto on June 22, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

At the start of March, the audit notes that there were still nearly 4,000 people staying in less than 3,000 rooms in 29 hotels.

“Someone has to pay for this,” Crowe said. “We should be absolutely outraged by this.”

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