Toronto Needs More Supportive Housing – A Hospital Speaks Up

A complex of multi-story buildings of different shapes and sizes
Toronto General Hospital, Part of the University Health Network, a large teaching hospital grown over the years into a complex of buildings.

Here is a brief story about social medicine in the city of Toronto. It is an interview with Dr. Andrew Boozary, who heads the social medicine program at the University Health Network1.

Boozary discusses health care in Toronto and how the pandemic has affected services. He notes that we who live in the city are all feeling the effects of the pandemic. It has caused delays in medical procedures and overflowing emergency rooms. As well, some of us who live in the city have been hit much harder, with limited ability to follow public health guidelines, and higher rates of illness.

This is partly down to the city having critical gaps in the services that are needed to sustain all of the people who live here. Supportive housing is one example. As the name suggests, this is housing with supports, including social supports so that tenants can manage the activities of daily living. As well, financial support is necessary to ensure the housing is well maintained and affordable for the tenants who live there. Right now, there isn’t enough supportive housing. As a consequence, people who could live in supportive housing:

    • are living in hospitals
    • are staying in emergency shelters that are not equipped to provide the level of support that is needed, and
    • are living outdoors.

Boozary says the lack of supportive housing is felt by everyone who lives in Toronto, not just the people who would live there if it was available2.

This article is interesting partly because it appears in Toronto Life, which claims a circulation of 1,000,000 readers. It is encouraging to see the issue of homelessness being discussed in a publication that is so widely read. It may help to shift opinion to favour adding to the existing stock of supportive housing. It may also help ensure that funding is in place to provide the needed supports.

The article is also encouraging because the work at the University Health Network complements work at Unity Health, another network of hospitals in the city. It is helpful that so many of the city’s hospitals, which are traditional health care providers, are advocating for social medicine.

Read the interview with Dr. Boozary in Toronto Life: What Toronto’s housing crisis means for public health

Human Rights Perspective

When Dr. Boozary identifies the need for more supportive housing, he is speaking about policies and programs that are putting pressure on health services and contributing to homelessness. The UN’s Guidance on the Right to Adequate Housing states that governments should put priority on ending homelessness, which is a prima facie (meaning ‘obvious’) denial of the right to adequate housing.

The UN Guidance also calls on states to use legislative, technical and economic means so that all residents experience adequate housing. Supportive housing is one example of a technical means to end homelessness. As Dr. Boozary explains, adding to the supply of supportive housing would directly benefit people experiencing homelessness and all residents in the city.


  1. Read about the University Health Network’s social medicine program here: Gattuso Centre for Social Medicine
  2. Read more about Dr. Boozary’s prescription for homelessness and the need for permanent supportive housing at NPR: This doctor wants to prescribe a cure for homelessness