OCAP | Encampments
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty is a direct action anti-poverty organization that fights for more shelter beds, social housing, and a raise in social assistance rates.
poverty, homelessness, housing, social assistance, ontario works, odsp, anti-poverty. ocap. ontario coalition against poverty, shelters,
255
archive,category,category-encampments,category-255,give-recurring,give-test-mode,give-page,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,select-theme-ver-4.5,menu-animation-underline

STATEMENT ON CITY’S SHELTER INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN AND SHELTER-HOTELS

On Thursday, October 21st, the Economic and Community Development Committee of Toronto voted to close 13 shelter-hotels in April, 2022[1]. The City claims that Shelter Support and Housing Committee will be working with shelter-hotels to transition residents into permanent housing. We say- what housing?! Social housing in Toronto is completely full, with the general wait list taking 12 years or more for people to get accommodations[2]. The average market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto is $1431[3], while Ontario Works shelter allowance is $390[4]. Homelessness in Toronto will not end in April. Currently shelter-hotels are providing protection from the elements for 2,647 people[5]. There are only 110 beds available in the shelter system right now[6]. We will not let people be pushed from shelters onto the streets, we will fight with and alongside shelter-hotel residents by any means necessary!

Toronto’s shelter system is bursting at the seams. The City of Toronto has failed to live up to its own mandate of maintaining shelter occupancy rates at below 90% capacity since the adoption of this mandate in 1999[7]. As of today, 24-hour respite centers are operating at 100% capacity, single people shelters are at 96.2% capacity, and emergency family shelters are at 100% capacity[8]. With shelters this full, people without homes may not have access to shelter beds that are appropriate for them, resulting in people being turned away and left out in the cold[9]. Many shelter spaces are inaccessible and/or inadequate for peoples seeking space[10], many do not offer wheelchair or mobility devise accessibility, accessible washrooms or accessible laundry facilities. On any given night an average of 38 people seeking shelter space are turned away[11]. This is an emergency; the shelter system is in crisis.

Shelter-hotels provide rooms for residents, mediating risks of COVID-19 transmissions overcrowded shelters and respite centers. While shelter-hotels have been an improvement over the rest of the shelter system, significant program and policy changes are needed to increase safety and accessibility.

The existence of these shelter-hotels has been used to justify the clearing of encampments[12]. Across the system, approximately 80 rooms are consistently held open to support encampment evictions. While 80 rooms sit empty, other homeless people, including those who are sleeping rough elsewhere than the targeted encampments, are denied access to the shelter-hotel system, even when directly requesting to move indoors. Shelter-hotels have a policy that disqualifies people from being admitted shelter-hotels if they have accessed shelter services in the last 30 days[13]. Encampment residents may briefly access shelter services for a variety of reasons[14]. Last week 17 names were added to the Toronto Homeless Memorial[15]. People who are homeless are dying and these restrictive policies will contribute to the mounting deaths we see.

Many shelter-hotels take people far away from the supports they require, significantly impacting safety and wellbeing of peoples that use drugs and leading to increased lethality[16]. The tireless advocacy efforts of harm-reduction workers has seen the implementation of Shelter Housing Overdose Prevention Program (SHOPP); however, this program is not offered in every shelter-hotel, and residents are not permitted to transfer shelters on their own accord[17].

Shelter-hotels are inadequately accessible. For example, the Bond Hotel does have a wheelchair ramp but that ramp is designated as an exit. People using mobility devises are denied access to the building through use of the one available ramp. The Bond Hotel has set up a designated smoking area for residents however that smoking area is not accessible for people using mobility devises and the smoking area structure physically blocks access to the ramp. Staff must physically move the smoking structure to allow access to the ramp for people using mobility devises. This is unacceptable and a serious safety risk in the event of an emergency. Shelter-hotels must make an accessible fire and emergency plan. People with mobility devises are given rooms on the top floors of the building, there is no way for them to exit the building in the event of a fire or another emergency that disables use of the elevators.

Shelter-hotels have insufficient and/or inappropriate staff. There are simply not enough case workers for the amount of people that reside in hotels. Hotels have up to 270 residents and as few as 3 case workers, resulting in many residents being left to try to navigate the system on their own. Additionally, shelter-hotel locations have 1 personal support worker staff for the entire facility. This PSW staff does not provide bathing and hygiene services, despite bathrooms being physically inaccessible. Shelter-hotel residents state that there is a policy barring outside social service workers and agencies from entering the shelter-hotel locations. This policy denies people access to their basic care needs. Every person deserves access to appropriate services, if the shelter-hotels cannot provide it residents should be supported in accessing external services.

Shelter-hotel residents are subjected to dehumanizing and unnecessary restrictive policies. Shelter-hotel residents report that workers complete room-checks up to five times a day[18], including in the middle of the night. Regardless of the needs of the resident, room checks are completed 3 to 4 times a day, with the last room check being at 11 PM. For residents deemed high risk, room checks are completed every two hours. Residents state that these room checks are invasive and lead to sleep deprivation. Room checks, especially evening and night room checks, can be significantly triggering for people who have lived through traumatic experiences, worsening trauma symptom severity. It is a patronizing practice that is not appropriate for all residents.

Toronto is in a housing crisis. SSHA claims that they will be working with shelter-hotel residents to transition them into housing, but currently they have only placed 8% of shelter-hotel residents into permanent housing[19]. SSHA says they will open 2000 supportive housing spaces to house both shelter-hotel residents and the chronically homeless, this is double promising an already inadequate number of spaces[20]. We will not stand by while the city evicts shelter-hotel residents onto the street!

OCAP will fight for hotel-shelters to remain open; we will fight for safe and secure shelter spaces; we will fight for right of dignity for all peoples; we will fight for deeply and truly affordable social housing. We will fight with and alongside community members, and we will fight to win.

 

[1] Toronto City Council, “Economic and Community Development Committee – October 21, 2021”, 2021 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59r-T50AYvM&t=25s>

[2] City of Toronto, “Rent-Geared-to-Income Subsidy”, 2021

[3] City of Toronto, “Current City of Toronto Average Market Rent and Utility Allowances”, 2021

[4] City of Toronto, “Monthly Ontario Works Amounts”, 2021.

[5] City of Toronto, “Daily Shelter & Overnight Service Usage”, 2021

[6] City of Toronto, “Daily Shelter & Overnight Service Usage”, 2021

[7] SSHA, “Staff Report on the Capacity of the Emergency Shelter System”, Community and Neighborhood Services Committee, Toronto City Council, March 24, 1999

[8] City of Toronto, “Daily Shelter & Overnight Service Usage”, 2021

[9]  Withers, A.J., Sheila Lacroix, Sarah Rehou, Roxy Danielson, Zoe Dodd, Claude Whitman, Jennifer Jewell, Cathy Crow, Tommy Taylor, Maggie Hulbert, Nicholas Camargo & Greg Cook. “Emergency Winter and Shelter Support and Infrastructure Plan” Shelter & Housing Justice Network. Toronto, 2021, pp. 19.

[10] Shelter Housing Justice Network, “Emergency Winter and Shelter Support and Infrastructure Plan”, pp. 25, 2021

[11] Fact Check Toronto, “Shelter Capacity”, 2021

[12] Withers, A.J., Sheila Lacroix, Sarah Rehou, Roxy Danielson, Zoe Dodd, Claude Whitman, Jennifer Jewell, Cathy Crow, Tommy Taylor, Maggie Hulbert, Nicholas Camargo & Greg Cook. “Emergency Winter and Shelter Support and Infrastructure Plan” Shelter & Housing Justice Network. Toronto, 2021, pp. 26.

[13] Withers, A.J., Sheila Lacroix, Sarah Rehou, Roxy Danielson, Zoe Dodd, Claude Whitman, Jennifer Jewell, Cathy Crow, Tommy Taylor, Maggie Hulbert, Nicholas Camargo & Greg Cook. “Emergency Winter and Shelter Support and Infrastructure Plan” Shelter & Housing Justice Network. Toronto, 2021, pp. 39.

[14] Withers, A.J., Sheila Lacroix, Sarah Rehou, Roxy Danielson, Zoe Dodd, Claude Whitman, Jennifer Jewell, Cathy Crow, Tommy Taylor, Maggie Hulbert, Nicholas Camargo & Greg Cook. “Emergency Winter and Shelter Support and Infrastructure Plan” Shelter & Housing Justice Network. Toronto, 2021, pp. 39.

[15] Holy Trinity Toronto, ”Toronto Homeless Memorial”, 2021.

[16] Withers, A.J., Sheila Lacroix, Sarah Rehou, Roxy Danielson, Zoe Dodd, Claude Whitman, Jennifer Jewell, Cathy Crow, Tommy Taylor, Maggie Hulbert, Nicholas Camargo & Greg Cook. “Emergency Winter and Shelter Support and Infrastructure Plan” Shelter & Housing Justice Network. Toronto, 2021, pp. 23.

[17] Withers, A.J., Sheila Lacroix, Sarah Rehou, Roxy Danielson, Zoe Dodd, Claude Whitman, Jennifer Jewell, Cathy Crow, Tommy Taylor, Maggie Hulbert, Nicholas Camargo & Greg Cook. “Emergency Winter and Shelter Support and Infrastructure Plan” Shelter & Housing Justice Network. Toronto, 2021, pp. 24.

[18] Fact Check Toronto, Shelter hotels, 2021.

[19] Beattie, “Only 8% of Encampment Residents Have Made It into Permanent Housing since April 2020, Toronto data shows”, CBC News, Sep 12, 2021.  Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-encampment-residents-housing-1.6167173

[20] Withers, A.J. “RE: EC25.6 2022 Shelter Infrastructure Plan, Community Engagement Review and Amendments to Contracts and Purchase Orders to Support Shelter Services”, Oct 20, 2021, Retrieved from https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2021/ec/comm/communicationfile-137704.pdf

OCAP Statement regarding Encampment Clearing at Trinity Bellwoods

OCAP Denounces the Repressive Violence in Clearing Unhoused People from Trinity Bellwoods Park

June 22, 2021
On the morning of June 22, 2021, hundreds of Toronto Police Service officers (TPS) and privately contracted security officers descended on Trinity Bellwoods Park to remove houseless people living in tents with tenuous promises of shelter or by force if necessary. Residents of Toronto mobilized to prevent the unnecessary and heartless removal of those residing in the park without any other safe place to live. Police erected fencing around the perimeter of the park, boxing in residents and supporters, effectively “kettling” those in attendance and preventing further supporters from entering the area.
This was a planned coordination of excessive force on the part of the City of Toronto (CoT) and the TPS to demonstrate power and intimidate residents and supporters. The police used escalation tactics, threatened fines, arrests, and the removal of residents and supporters. Resources were at no shortage to the TPS as hundreds of mounted police, plain clothes officers, riot cops and corporate security were present to control the movement of 20-25 encampment residents.
Under the guise of “restoring” the park, the City of Toronto is faking concern for encampment residents by spreading misleading and unfounded anxiety such as “fire risks” and other threats to safety which could be mitigated by working with those living in encampments rather than by forceful evictions. The more likely motivation for displacing encampment residents who are seeking safe alternatives to the unsafe and overcrowded shelter system is to remove the visibility of poverty from increasingly gentrified neighbourhoods for the perceived comfort of those living in nearby luxury condo developments.
The show of force by the city in the effort to remove unhoused people from the only safe refuge they have found in the midst of a pandemic, as the housing crisis is not only unacceptable and callous but gravely contradicts public health standards. Displacing people while offering no true alternatives is cruel, traumatizing, and unnecessary. The tactics being used by the city and its police forces are not a solution to the issues that create these encampments and only serve to dehumanize residents and protestors alike. The city of Toronto must stop these violent and unwarranted evictions and focus on true solutions and alternatives in regards to safety and housing by working with the community rather than escalation of the ongoing war on the poor and unhoused. We applaud the resistance shown by the community, residents, and supporters, and condemn the predatory and discriminatory actions of TPS and CoT.
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP)


Defund, Disarm the Police
Stop Greedy Landlords – put an end to evictions
Demand immediate increase in Rent Geared to Income Housing
Demand and Enforce “Use It or Lose It” policies and by-laws
Expropriate Land and Buildings left for-profit and speculation
Demand Safe Injection Spaces and Safe Drug Supply
Expand Drop-In and Health Services in Our Neighbourhoods.

National Housing Day 2020: A crisis like we have never seen, housing is a public health emergency 

As we approach National Housing Day on November 22nd, the shelter and housing crisis in our City is unlike anything we have ever seen before. 

COVID-19 has amplified this crisis as more people lose income and struggle to survive. The provincial and municipal governments refuse to institute a moratorium on evictions, paving the way for new waves of evictions. Shelters are full, and remain sites of fear for a perfect storm for COVID transmission as conditions do not allow for distancing or enough personal space. Encampments have grown in every park across the city, and communities of people in tents are staring down the approaching cold weather with no real alternatives. All levels of government have failed miserably to house people. We see drops in the bucket, tiny Bandaids on a giant wound. The City of Toronto recently opened up the Better Living Centre as a respite site, complete with dystopian cell-like glass cubes  – no privacy, no respect for the dignity of poor people in our city, no offer of one person one room, nor enough beds for everyone who needs them right now. 

Overdose deaths have nearly doubled since last year. Doubled. We are seeing the collision of the housing/shelter crisis with an overdose crisis and the results are catastrophic. Communities are losing people – loved ones, friends – at a shocking and horrific rate. This grief and trauma cannot be measured. 

We need housing and we need it now. Not trickled down half measures, but bold, determined, full access – HOUSING. Immediately. 

In the spring we fought for access to hotels and housing as an alternative to overcrowded shelters. We won some spaces in hotels, but that has proved to be, once again, a drop in the bucket, and with a dangerous lack of adequate harm reduction supports on-site. A few weeks ago we marched again on 214-230 Sherbourne, an empty property and abandoned building in the middle of one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods, to demand it be expropriated and immediately converted to housing, which the city had promised to do. 

As we head into another winter. As COVID-19 cases rise dramatically, it feels like entire communities are left on deflating lifeboats. Who will get a chance to survive?

Today, we renew our support for the 6 Demands for Immediate Action created by Encampment Support Network:

  1. Invest in actually affordable housing Obtain vacant buildings to convert into housing. Create 10, 000 units of rent-geared to income housing in the next 24 months 
  2. Immediately enforce an eviction moratorium
  3. Immediately end the criminalization of encampments and issue a moratorium on clearing encampments: No one should be ticketed or harassed by police or security for living in the park
  4. All shelter and supportive housing sites must be user-friendly and include robust overdose prevention and harm reduction services as well as robust covid safety measures 
  5. Until there is enough permanent, safe, dignified, and affordable housing, immediately ensure enough emergency shelters (with COVID safety measures). That means 2000 more rooms before winter comes
  6.  Immediately provide winter survival gear for those in encampments, including fire safety gear, sleeping bags, access to food and water, winter clothing, and heaters.

Many people across Toronto and beyond are organizing and resisting – from supporting the encampments to blocking evictions – poor and working-class people who are defending themselves, supporting each other, and organizing. 

In the same way, there can be no half-measures from the government, there can be no half-measures in our organizing as we fight for what poor and working-class people need to survive in this critical moment. If you are not already in the struggle – join it. Join a neighbourhood anti-eviction committee with Parkdale Organize or People’s Defence, join the Encampment Support Network, join Jane Finch Action Against Poverty, join OCAP, or fight where you are. Let’s work together, let’s organize, let’s win. 

 

Ontario Coalition Against Poverty 

November 22, 2020