Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, encampments and temporary dwellings have increased at an unexpected rate in Toronto and many cities across the country. Encampments are not a suitable long-term housing solution for those most in need. However, for more than 1,000 homeless people in Toronto, encampments have provided a sense of community and security, especially during the pandemic.
As the winter worsens and we grapple with the second wave of COVID-19, encampment residents are at risk of forced removal by the City of Toronto. Forcible clearings of encampments are not the answer. They are harsh and unfair. More so, encampment evictions can have negative social and health consequences by dispersing homeless residents throughout the community and breaking connections with service providers.
At the same time, Toronto has struggled to provide adequate emergency, transitional, supportive or permanent housing options for those in need. To date, there have been five deaths and 650 cases of COVID-19 linked to outbreaks in city shelters. Many people feel unsafe staying in shelters, a large portion of which include dorm-like shared spaces. Crowded and enclosed spaces make it difficult to social distance, heightening the risk of airborne spread of coronavirus. Lack of capacity is also an ongoing challenge for the City’s shelter system. And while the City is working to increase the supply of emergency shelter and transitional housing, there still isn’t enough. Some encampment residents are being offered accommodation in temporary shelter-hotels an hour or more away from their own communities, connections, and supports.
We urge the City to work hand-in-hand with encampment residents, and the volunteers and service providers who support them, to find suitable housing alternatives. Meaningful and ongoing engagement with encampment residents is important for creating a fair and equitable city that upholds the human right to housing.
The key to ending homelessness is permanent, affordable housing. That will take time. Until then, the City must do more to support the growing number of homeless individuals in our city.
Social Planning Toronto is a nonprofit, charitable community organization that works to improve equity, social justice, and quality of life in Toronto through community capacity building, community education and advocacy, policy research and analysis, and social reporting. We are dedicated to raising the voices of underrepresented communities in City decision-making.
Social Planning Toronto is joining the Encampment Support Network and many others to call on the City of Toronto to not forcibly displace encampment residents and to take a bottom-up approach to finding acceptable solutions to the housing crisis.