The Toronto Overdose Prevention Society, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and 14 homeless applicants are disappointed in Judge Schabas’s decision to not grant the injunction.
Yesterday’s decision by Justice Schabas has granted the City the right to clear encampments across Toronto amidst an escalating second wave of COVID-19 and a continued lack of safe housing options.
Since March, over 1000 people have been living in parks in large encampments throughout the City. The encampments signify a lack of shelter and housing options for people. Front-line workers and advocates have been raising the alarm for months about the continuing difficulty in finding shelter or housing options. Additionally, people are afraid to live in congregate settings due to the continued COVID risk, and those unable to secure shelter or housing, are forced to move in to tents in parks. “Many of these encampments are located near services that offer lifesaving supports that people rely on for their survival, like supervised injection services, overdose prevention sites, and healthcare. We are concerned with people being evicted or displaced to places far away from these services. We are dealing with a housing crisis, a global pandemic and an overdose crisis which has doubled since COVID. We are involved in this case because we don’t want people to die.” says Zoë Dodd, co-organizer with the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society.
Instead of providing housing, or basic survival-level needs for people living in the encampments such as access to toilets, washrooms or drinking water, the City surveils and polices encampments. This decision justifies an approach to homelessness based on criminalization through the enforcement of bylaws, instead of consultation and human rights.
In a statement released by the City of Toronto regarding the injunction, the City claims that there is a lack of drinking water, access to showers and washrooms. These are all services the City could provide. Many of the encampments are co-located next to community centres such as in Moss Park, Trinity Bellwoods, and Alexandra Park. Advocates have been asking for the washroom and shower facilities in these community centres to be opened since March.
Parks are public spaces, people who are homeless are also members of the public. The entire City has come together to make adjustments because of COVID. We have bars and restaurants using public spaces, like sidewalks and roads. We have people experiencing homelessness erecting tents in parks because they have nowhere else to go.
The City’s winter plan will not create enough adequate shelter and housing spaces to accommodate the number of people outside and it doesn’t address what encampment residents have been asking for. “People in encampments have made it clear that they need to be close to their supports and community for essential health and safety – overdose deaths increase when people are away from vital supports. Many encampment residents have said they are too scared to move in to a shelter sharing space with others, while COVID cases increase. The facts on the ground are undeniable – shelters remain unsafe to most. No matter how many times you call central intake, there are not enough beds, and people are expected to be shuffled around from one precarious or dangerous situation to the next. This is beyond a state of crisis, we need rapid housing and safe options immediately.” says Randi Sears from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.
Suitable accommodations also mean that people are more likely to stay in those locations. People have returned to encampments because the shelters were out of the City, away from their community and supports. People have also been discharged from programs for incidents such as missing curfew or not returning one night. With nowhere to go, they have had to move back in to encampments. “I was in a hotel, and then I was kicked out. Having nowhere to go and unable to get in to another hotel, I had to get a tent and move back in to the park.” says one Moss Park encampment resident.
People living in parks already live through the difficulties of living without privacy and security, adequate services and in the cold. Now, they will also have to fear being evicted, ticketed, and arrested for living outside. The injunction would not have stopped the ongoing police harassment, but it would restrict the weapons the City has to work with. “We’re not surprised that we lost, we’re used to being targeted by police and the laws treating us badly. But this hearing bought time, though police harass us daily, we weren’t being pushed out to move elsewhere.” Derrick Black, applicant living in Moss Park.
We are currently discussing with lawyers our next steps, weighing our options. We hope in the meantime that the City does not evict people from parks who have nowhere to go, only displacing the problem of unaffordable housing to the next location. One thing is clear – political action is needed to address this ongoing crisis in our city.