Four days after an encampment of homeless people under the Gardiner Expressway was cleared, a city official says Toronto took several steps to minimize the impact on those being told to leave.
Patricia Anderson, manager at the city's shelter, support and housing administration, says that outreach workers held an ID clinic — a chance for people without fixed addresses to learn how to get identification — and offered shelter referrals and information about permanent housing.
A warning was also posted two weeks before the clearance, she explained in an appearance on Metro Morning.
It's a far cry from the city's previous approach, Anderson said, when backhoes would simply go in, clear the structures and remove garbage.
That changed in 2005, when the city established a new interdepartmental protocol that requires the city to provide social services to the homeless before clearing encampments. It requires that the city have "social service responses" as part of clearance process, according to Anderson.
City encampments require unique approach
Homeless encampments are regularly dismantled in Toronto due to public complaints and concerns, and are often used by people who have no desire to stay in city shelters.
Christi Parks, a person who found shelter at the Gardiner encampment, told CBC Toronto that under the expressway was "one place I feel safe enough to sleep."
"A completely different approach is necessary to deliver services to these folks," said Anderson.
Officials will provide ID clinics, an introduction to shelters, and visits by social workers. They will also warn the homeless people that the clearances are coming.
When an encampment is to be cleared, the city brings in its Streets to Home team and its outreach workers, who may already be familiar with the homeless people living there.
Gardiner encampment cleared by transportation department
Anderson said it was the city's transportation services division who decided to clear the encampment under the Gardiner Expressway, west of Spadina Avenue, at the Lake Shore Boulevard. The area is considered a transportation corridor.
"And the decision would have been informed by any number of things: public complaints, consideration for the safety of those using the site, the need to maintain public spaces for public uses," said Anderson.
The camp has since returned to the Lake Shore Boulevard and Spadina Avenue area under the Gardiner.
"It's an area that's long been very attractive to people who are looking to sleep outside," she said. "It's always a balance, between the civic responsibility of maintaining public right to access and use of public space and the needs of the vulnerable people who are often seeking to remain there."
The city removes more than 150 encampments every year. An estimated 5,000 people are homeless in Toronto.
According to the city, an encampment is a location where people build or construct shelters in which to sleep. The camps are more than just sleeping bags and blankets, with people often adding tents, lean-tos and tarps to fashion temporary structures.