Advocates for unhoused people demand that Toronto stop clearing encampments in parks
Advocates want 2,000 more shelter hotel rooms, $1M for survival supplies and fire safety gear
Dozens of homeless advocates demanded on Monday that the city do more to help people living in encampments in city parks.
At a meeting of the city's economic and community development committee, nearly 40 people called on the city to impose an immediate moratorium on evictions of people living in tent camps in parks and elsewhere.
The advocates said they want the city to provide $1 million to community agencies to provide survival supplies and fire safety equipment to people living in tents and to open 2,000 new rooms in shelter hotels in the next four months.
A.J. Withers, a member of the steering committee of the Shelter and Housing Justice Network, said people in the encampments live with the fear of eviction every day. The city has not revoked eviction notices placed on tents, Withers said.
"People live in very real fear of that. And that fear is very destabilizing and so folks are afraid to leave their tents, that they will come back and everything they own would be gone," Withers said in an interview with CBC Toronto on Monday.
"It's a very real thing in people's lives."
Withers said crowded city shelters, which are considered congregate settings, are not an option for many unhoused people with COVID-19 cases on the rise. The encampments have become a lifeline, Withers said.
"The shelters are full. The city keeps saying, 'Inside is the safest place.' First off, there is no inside to go to," Withers said.
"When there is somewhere to go, that space is often only a congregate setting, and many people don't feel safe and there is significant evidence to show that congregate settings aren't safe."
Advocates are also calling for 2,000 shelter hotel rooms in four months because they say evictions are continuing to happen at the Landlord and Tenant Board and encampments are expected to grow, Withers said.
Withers said half of the shelter hotel rooms should be downtown to ensure people are not disconnected from services they need and their communities.
The advocates also said they think the sites containing the shelter hotel rooms should have overdose prevention and harm reduction services.
'We're demanding, not asking'
Les Harper, a homeless advocate and an Indigenous health promoter, said the city needs to provide more options for unhoused people as temperatures continue to drop. He said people in tents need housing.
"We're demanding, not asking. We're demanding 2,000 more hotel rooms," he said.
In "The Toronto Fallout Report: Half a Year in the Life of COVID-19," the Toronto Foundation said evictions are on the rise in the city after the province lifted its ban.
"With the eviction moratorium lifted in early August 2020, Toronto is seeing more people than ever reaching out for support from eviction prevention, rental assistance programs, and affordable housing providers," the report reads.
Advocates have estimated there are at least 1,000 people living in encampments, but according to the city, the number is closer to about 400.
Mayor unconvinced 2,000 more hotel rooms needed
At a city hall news briefing on Monday, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he is not convinced there is a need for another 2,000 shelter hotel rooms. He said the city has already found housing for 1,100 people who were living in encampments.
"I think a lot of the deputations today were based on false premises with respect to what the city's plans were with respect to housing homeless people," Tory said.
The mayor also disputed the estimated number of people living in encampments.
"There's a few hundred left, and I'm not trying to minimize that number, but I think the numbers say around 400 that are in the encampments now."
Withers added: "These tiny numbers that the mayor celebrates and says, 'We're working really hard,' it's nowhere near enough, and it's nowhere near enough for the mass evictions that were seeing at the landlord tenant board right now."
Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, who also spoke at the city news conference, reported that there were nine encampment fires on the weekend.
One fire involved a green foam dome, an insulated foam structure, in HTO Park on Queen's Quay.
"I want to be very clear. These pods are not a suitable nor safe means of shelter and are not a suitable alternative to safe, indoor housing," Pegg told reporters.
Demands follow letters supporting encampments
The demands presented to the committee follow letters calling for an immediate moratorium on encampment evictions.
The letters have been signed by nearly 500 musicians, 650 artists and authors, 500 academics, 230 service industry workers, more than 150 legal scholars, lawyers and law students, and 200 students at the University of Toronto faculty of medicine.
Nearly 50,000 people also have signed a petition demanding the city allow Toronto Tiny Shelters, built by carpenter Khaleel Seivwright, to remain in city parks and that the city stop all encampment evictions.
With files from Greg Ross, Muriel Draaisma