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:
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
Subject: Expropriation of 214-230 Sherbourne for the purpose of conversion into social housing as described in: A Community Driven Proposal for Public Housing: submitted by Open Architecture Toronto
Despite Toronto’s on-going homelessness disaster, a pandemic, the imminent threats of mass evictions being created by rent arrears / Bill 124, ongoing displacement by gentrification , 1.1% vacancy rates and rising rents we hear only silence on the housing proposal we submitted in 2019. Why? Our community is asking! Unsafe, homeless and precariously housed people are asking. Even worse- they are dying. Waiting for a home, or fighting not to lose one!
Are you aware of how your silence betrays and undermines our East End community’s efforts to obtain affordable housing? How do we explain the hypocrisy of your promises to create housing solution responses to homelessness and then witness you walking away from our community-driven Sherbourne St. Housing Development opportunity! Housing is not built on paper. It requires all kinds of spades in the ground.
The City of Toronto Act defines your responsibility; ‘’The City has the responsibility and authority to provide any service or thing that the City considers necessary or desirable to the public.”
We want to remind you that the City of Toronto Act gives it very specific power related to Expropriations. “The City has the power to acquire land under this or any other Act that includes the power to expropriate land in accordance with the Expropriation Act.“
There were 12 expropriations made in 2019. None of them was in support of housing.
The City can access valuable land. We have defined what is necessary for, and desirable for, the low-income public of our East End Community. But, the City of Toronto, which has the power to ex
propriate, does not use it. Why? There are vacant lands and abandoned buildings in neighborhoods all across this City, held for years by investors and developers in pursuit of real estate profits. Many of these holdings will never be used to serve the primary need of low- income communities for safety, health, and a home. Their focus is on housing for profit, and not housing as a human right. You have known this for years. We are compelled to observe that your support for profit focused condo developers is in perfect alignment with your negligence of low income and homeless people, who cannot find a place to live. We say. erve the people. All of the people.
We do not accept your current excuse, “The City has no standard policy to govern the acquisition / expropriation of properties for low income housing”. This is no reason to ignore the goal of building social housing. It closes the door on working with our community, or pursuing creative approaches. Pushing our proposal into the waiting rooms of Create Toronto and the Affordable Housing Office, may satisfy some highly paid bureaucrats that meaningful work is being done. But It does not satisfy us. Or resolve the need of our people for housing.
They are exhausted, running in a civic and government sponsored homeless marathon: it’s milestones – exclusion, poverty, disrespect, denial and betrayal. Do what is just and right.
EXPROPRIATE AND BUILD NOW!
Govern yourselves accordingly,
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
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.
Location: Allan Gardens
Saturday October 24
For the 11th year in a row 214-230 Sherbourne sits empty! It should be social housing!
We have a plan! ocap.ca/214-230-development-proposal
In 2019, we showed the City of Toronto how 260 units of publicly-owned rent-geared-to-income housing could be built on this land.
Join us to demand the city expropriate 214-230 Sherbourne now! Winter is coming. No More Homeless Deaths.
Meet at Allan Gardens followed by a short march.
Jane Finch Action Against Poverty
Food will be provided. COVID protocols will be followed. Please wear a mask, keep 2 meters apart. PPE and hand sanitizer will be provided if needed. Please stay home if you have any symptoms or have recently traveled.
Please contact us for specific accessibility needs.
Poster design by: @rosemary.snell
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!
Giuliana Carbon: 416-338-7205 – firstname.lastname@example.org
*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
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:
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
The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty condemns any attempts or threats to forcibly remove encampments of people from Nathan Philips Square. Since June 19, the Afro-Indigenous Rising Collective and supporters have been peacefully protesting in place at Nathan Philips Square against centuries of colonial and state condoned police violence against Indigenous and African-Canadian communities.
The City of Toronto is saying that the encampments are putting health and safety at risk when, in fact, police brutality against Black and Indigenous peoples puts their health, their safety, and their lives at risk every day.
At the same time, the City deliberately ignores the health and safety of hundreds of homeless people by putting their lives at risk in their refusal to provide safe environments, forcing them to live in crowded shelters where social distancing is impossible to achieve. The reality is that the City politicians and officials are refusing to acknowledge the protesters’ demands to defund/abolish police – demands echoed by thousands of people in anti-racism protests across the world following the murder of George Floyd in the US.
The continued existence of this encampment flies boldly in the face of the City’s efforts to ignore protesters demands. They are hoping that “out of sight-out of mind” will enable their efforts to ignore all demands to defund/abolish police. The City’s concerns that the square is a “public space” that should be shared by all, clearly denies the rights of protesters to share this space. The protesters have been ordered to take down their encampment or face charges of trespassing and $10,000 fines. OCAP supports the right of this Collective to camp in Nathan Phillips square without harassment or threats from the City of Toronto. We support their demands to defund the police and to redirect funds into communities.