OCAP | Homelessness
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.
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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

A Housing Platform for Poor and Working people

OCAP denounces all federal parties’ insufficient attempts at prioritizing ‘affordable’ housing in the upcoming election.

“Affordable” is a misnomer, it is weak-willed political jargon, intended to be vague. What we need is more not-for-profit housing: safe, quality social housing, a serious investment in the housing co-operative model, and the deprivatization of long-term care. We need housing designed for people, not profit.

Housing has been an issue for poor people for decades. As federal parties unveil a platform mainly supportive to help middle-income earners, it is obvious that poor and working people’s needs are not anywhere in mind. Most of the platform points from all major political parties focus on homeownership, once again leaving renters, under-housed, and unhoused persons out of the conversation.

Accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, there are hundreds of thousands of people at risk of being evicted and forced onto the streets. No federal party makes mention of any solution to this. Instead, all parties offer too little, too late, and fail across the board to center those in dire need. After years of neglect from all levels of government, we need emergency action, that prioritizes a safe place to live for every member of the country, including migrants and undocumented peoples.

This housing crisis has been manufactured by developers and governments who have, by design, allowed the slow supply of specific types of housing, and sustained a bubble of prices that only top income earners can perforate. Since 1993, the federal government has stopped investing in social housing across Canada. What we see today is the effects of a long-term and calculated effort to neglect and invisibilize our most vulnerable, consolidate profits into developer’s hands, and further the neoliberal agenda.

Condominium developers continue to run amok, while other models of housing are forgotten. Greedy landlords and real estate developers continue to profit at the expense of poor and working people simply needing a place to live. Shame on the federal government for allowing this crisis to happen in the first place and shame on their lack of action now.

We are in unprecedented times, with hundreds of thousands of people across the country behind in rent and eligible for eviction. Our shelter systems are full and overcrowded. After being sued, the government was forced to look to hotels and other interim solutions in response to the pandemic. We have thousands of people living in encampments across the country, being forcefully and violently evicted by police, with nowhere else to go.

The population in shelters is increasingly made up of migrants left without status due to huge problems based on race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability in Canada’s immigration system. This population has special needs, none of which are even touched on in any of the platforms.

The housing platforms of all major political parties fall grossly short of the change that is needed to support the right to housing.

Our governments at all levels are complicit in this crisis, and we demand long-term sustainable solutions that secure the right to housing for people at all income levels.

Our Housing Platform Demands:

  • A commitment to 1 million new social housing units, nationwide, to be built by 2025
  • An ongoing funding commitment to municipalities comparable to rates adjusted for inflation before funding cuts in 1993 for the maintenance and creation of social housing going forward
  • The facilitation of new housing cooperatives in every city, in the amount to house all those waitlisted and meet ongoing demand by 2026
  • An increase in taxes for those who own more than two properties
  • A 20% vacancy tax for empty and unused properties for up to 3 years
  • The expropriation of empty and unused buildings sitting for over 3 years to create more not-for-profit housing options
  • Stronger policies that support the rights of tenants, including rent forgiveness for pandemic arrears
  • Redefine the term “Affordable” to reflect deeply affordable housing based on income and not in contrast to market rent
  • Focus on shifting the financialization of property to providing housing for all who require shelter
  • End the for-profit model for long-term care facilities and ensure dignified and safe housing for all, at every stage of life.

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

Action Alert: Stop the Eviction of the Moss Park Encampment

Update: We won a reprieve from eviction through the tenacity of the residents of Moss Park, community organizing and legal action combined. But we need to keep up the pressure. Please Phone/Email/Tweet this week to say you support people in all the encampments and want housing for all!

Phone/Tweet/Email Zap Action Today!

#StopEncampmentEvictions #HousingForAll

Mayor Tory: 416-397-2489 – mayor_tory@toronto.ca @JohnTory

Giuliana Carbon: 416-338-7205 – giuliana.carbon@toronto.ca

*Sample Tweet/scripts below*

In the midst of multiple deadly crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, the overdose crisis and the housing crisis, the City of Toronto is at the ready to evict yet another group of people who have been living in a public park together. The City has served people living in the Moss Park Encampment an eviction notice for tomorrow and threatened this group of homeless people with $10,000 fines and the destruction of their property.

We need your help today to tell the Mayor and Deputy City Manager that the community will not tolerate this attack on homeless people.

Fourteen residents of various encampments, along with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) and the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society (TOPS) are filing suit against the City of Toronto to prevent the eviction of all encampments without the provision of adequate and acceptable accommodation. Aware of the lawsuit, the City has decided to go ahead with the lawsuit anyway.

Derrick Black, Moss Park Encampment resident and named applicant says: “I don’t like how they deal with people in the park. The enforcement is too much. I’m not moving until I get housing. I’m tired of the promises.”

Toronto’s shelter system has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 617 positive COVID cases have been confirmed in city shelters, with 38 different outbreaks across shelter sites leading to at least 4 deaths. The hotel-shelters people are offered space in are inadequate for those remaining in the park. Three of the named Applicants in the litigation have abandoned their hotel-shelter rooms because they found the conditions unacceptable. Hotel-shelter rooms are often far from where they have been living and where their necessary supports are, taking 1 to 2 hours by transit, to return to the area. The hotel-shelters are run like shelters, don’t permit visitors, can have curfews as early as 9 pm and create the conditions for overdose to occur. There have been at least two fatal overdoses in these hotels.

The City is justifying the eviction of Moss Park on the grounds of “health and safety” even though the United Nations and the Center for Disease Control have said it is unsafe to dismantle encampments in the context of COVID-19.

What to say when you call/email:

I support the people in the encampments who have been living there for months. If you are concerned about “health and safety” you should supply water, washroom facilities, and fire safety equipment –  not displace people. Displacing people goes against what both the CDC and UN recommend because it is safer for people in encampments to stay where they are unless they are being housed. Hotel-shelters that are far from their communities and services and that have restrictive rules are not safe for all people. The city should be consulting with homeless people as to what housing will work for them. Homeless people should never have had to sue the city simply to stay in tents in a park because there is no safer place to go; this signals a widespread failure on the part of the City. Stop the eviction of Moss Park immediately! Supply all of the encampments with the amenities the residents say they need to be healthier and safer.

 

Sample Tweet 1:

I support the people in the #encampments. @JohnTory stop the eviction of Moss Park Encampment now! The shelters are full and often unsafe and the motel-shelters often full and not appropriate for many people. #StopEncampmentEvictions #HousingForAll

 

Sample Tweet 2

#StopEncampmentEvictions. @JohnTory don’t evict Moss Park Encampment. If you are really concerned about “health and safety,” give people water, washrooms and fire safety equipment. Don’t displace them in contravention of #CDC and #UN guidelines and basic human decency.

Take 3 minutes to help stop the unjust and unsafe eviction of the Moss Park Encampment. 

Photo by Doug Johnson-Hatlem

Speak Out: Homeless Rights & Housing for all

Wednesday, July 22 at 11 am | Peter St. Referral Centre | 129 Peter St. (at Richmond)

The state of homelessness continues to grow and reach bigger crisis levels in the City of Toronto.

With the added problem of COVID, the situation is rapidly deteriorating.  The shelter system capacity has been cut in half and has not been replaced adequately by hotels or housing.  Including all of the backup respite sites, there has still been a loss of over 500 spaces.  The Peter St. referral centre remains closed and there is nowhere to refer people to for safe space as the shelters are both full and hazardous to people’s health.  The only housing being built in the City remains unaffordable and inaccessible, while the Province is moving to make thousands more homeless through Bill 184 and by lifting the moratorium on evictions.

For the well over a thousand people already sleeping on the streets and in the parks there is no where else to go.  Still they face threat of displacement and criminalization by the City.  Instead of providing basic needs for people to live like housing, the City continues to invest over $1.1 billion a year into racist, violent policing.

Call out the City and demand action to confront this crisis we are facing.

 

We demand the City:

  1. Social Housing Now: the City do whatever it takes to buy, expropriate, build social housing now to deal with homelessness (including expropriating 214-230 Sherbourne Ave immediately).
  2. Defund the Police: the City defund the police 50% now and fund basic needs and services such as hotels and housing.
  3. No Shelter and Housing Cuts: no cuts to the housing and shelter budget
  4. Encampment Eviction Moratorium: the City reimplement the moratorium on all encampment relocations and evictions and it be kept in place for the duration of the pandemic and a minimum of 12 months.
  5. Hotels and Housing for All: End the use of congregate living settings and ensure everyone has a private room and bathroom. Lift restrictive rules in existing and future hotel; and, new units need to be opened in the downtown core.
  6. Moratorium on Tenant Evictions: the Mayor to use his emergency powers to implement a moratorium on tenant evictions.
  7. Stop Bill 184: the City call on the Province of Ontario to stop Bill 184 and the creation of more homelessness.

Speakers:

John Clarke – Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

Desmond Cole – Activist, Journalist, Author

Zoe Dodd – Toronto Overdose Prevention Society

Greg Cook – Shelter Housing Justice Network and Outreach Worker at Sanctuary

ALSO- Speaker from Parkdale Organize
http://parkdaleorganize.ca/

Homeless Encampments: Open Letter to Mayor Tory

Dear Mayor Tory and Toronto City Council,

The pandemic has been utterly devastating to homeless communities in Toronto. Congregate living arrangements in packed shelters continue to leave thousands of homeless people exposed and the City has failed to open up sufficient housing units and hotel rooms. A lawsuit was necessary for the City to agree to implement basic physical distancing standards in all its respites and shelters – which still has yet to take place. People staying in the homeless shelter system contract COVID-19 at a rate of 19 times that of Toronto’s housed population.*

The situation has forced hundreds, likely well over a thousand people, to seek protection in tents outdoors. Despite this, you’ve reversed a prior moratorium and are now actively clearing homeless encampments.

We call on you to follow the advice of international health experts by immediately ending the dismantling of homeless encampments and open up vacant housing units or hotel rooms for homeless people. Moving forward, we further call on you not to worsen the already pre-COVID shelter crisis by implementing deadly austerity measures; rather, to have the foresight to recognize low income housing as an urgent health need and create more units.

The shelters are full. Homeless people and front-line workers experience the inability to access beds on a daily basis.

The City is using “health and safety” as an excuse to destroy the encampments but the United Nations and the Center for Disease Control both say it is unsafe to do this. The CDC says:

  • If individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are.
    • Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.

It outlines supports the City should be putting in place instead – like ensuring people have washroom access. The US National Law Centre on Homelessness and Poverty says:

preserving individuals’ ability to sleep in private tents instead of mass facilities through repealing—or at least pausing enforcement of—ordinances banning camping or sleeping in public would ensure people can more safely shelter in place, maintain social distancing, and reduce sleep deprivation. Encampments should be provided with preventative solutions—like mobile toilets, sanitation stations, and trash bins—to further reduce harm.

Instead, the City says it has a policy of guaranteeing people “indoor placement” for people who are evicted from the encampments. There are two serious problems with this claim. The first is that this has not been the case in several instances. The second is that these are often shelter or respite placements; they put people right back into the conditions they left.

The City’s COVID-19 strategy has been a disaster for homeless people in Toronto. While the pandemic was unavoidable, the current crisis in Toronto’s shelter system was not. Years of austerity have ensured that our City has insufficient low income housing and emergency housing.

The crisis that homeless people are currently in is largely the result of decisions made by City Council. In the coming months, moving into a potentially unprecedented series of evictions, you can learn from your mistakes and pass a budget that not only refuses to cut shelter and housing but recognizes the urgent public health need for more low income housing and commits funds for more rent-geared-to-income units.

Again, this is what we need:

Today: a moratorium on encampment evictions.

Urgently: a permanent housing unit or a hotel unit for every single person in the shelter system.

In the budget: More housing and shelter, not less!

Failure to implement these measures will result in public action.

With the utmost sincerity,
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
157 Carlton St #201
Toronto, ON. M5A 2K3
416 925 6939
ocap.ca | @OCAPtoronto | facebook.com/OcapToronto

* While there are higher rates of testing in some shelters than in the general public, people staying in shelters test positive for COVID-19 at 1.8 times rate of all those tested in Ontario (https://toronto.ctvnews.ca/ontario-records-323-new-covid-19-cases-amid-record-number-of-tests-completed-in-single-day-1.4961672 ).   Based on COVI-19 data for May 29, 2020 from: https://www.toronto.ca/home/covid-19/covid-19-latest-city-of-toronto-news/covid-19-status-of-cases-in-toronto/; July 2018 population data from: https://www.toronto.ca/city-government/data-research-maps/toronto-at-a-glance/; Toronto shelter population as of May 24th, provided to plaintiffs as per settlement agreement: https://ccla.org/toronto-must-defend-homeless/.