Toronto

Homeless advocates worry that group of tents in park to be cleared Monday amid pandemic

Homeless advocates are worried that people in tents in a downtown park will be dispersed early Monday despite assurances by the city to find them housing during the pandemic.

City says 11 tents received notices in George Hislop Park near Bloor and Yonge

Eleven tents in George Hislop Park received notices, according to the city. The park straddles Charles Street East and Isabella Street. The notices from the city's parks, forestry and recreation division say: 'Please remove possessions by Monday, May 4, 2020, 8 a.m.' (Submitted by Greg Cook)

Homeless advocates are worried that people living in tents in a downtown park will be dispersed and their tents taken down early Monday despite assurances by the city to find them housing during the pandemic.

Greg Cook, an outreach worker at Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto, said on Sunday that city parks ambassadors put notices on tents in George Hislop Park, near Bloor and Yonge Streets, on Thursday. 

Eleven tents in the park next to the Sanctuary building received notices, according to the city. The park straddles Charles Street East and Isabella Street. The notices from the city's parks, forestry and recreation division say: "Please remove possessions by Monday, May 4, 2020, 8 a.m."

On Thursday, Cook said Sanctuary staff worked with Toronto's Streets to Homes program workers to move 31 people experiencing homelessness into temporary apartments in North York. Streets to Homes, funded by the city, helps people to move from the street into permanent housing.

According to Cook, Streets to Homes has said there are no more apartments available for people in the park. He said Sanctuary workers have been told that the rest of the tents will be moved on Monday at 8 a.m. Some people have been put on waiting lists for housing for the end of May. 

"People literally have no other options," Cook said in an email to CBC Toronto. "A kind word or a granola bar by a Streets to Homes worker does not equal a housing option."

According to the city, its shelter, support and housing administration has identified a "range of options" that direct the people in the tents to the following:

  • City-run emergency shelters, which remain open for people experiencing homelessness, as well as 11 new facilities that have more than 470 spaces to allow for physical distancing.
  • The Streets to Homes Satellite Program, launched last Wednesday, which will create up to 125 spaces for people sleeping outdoors to access temporary interim housing.
  • More than 1,200 spaces at 12 hotel locations, which have been secured to enable physical distancing and provide isolation space.

In a statement on Sunday, the city said: "Given the risks to individuals living outdoors and pressures on existing services, the City of Toronto has implemented a moratorium on clearing of encampments at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"However, a recent increase in the number and size of encampments has led to increased concerns about the safety and well-being of people living outdoors, as well as the impact on the community."

With the help of community agencies, the city said it is taking immediate steps to support those sleeping outdoors through what it calls its "COVID-19 response strategy for outreach and encampments."

That strategy includes: access to safe indoor space, shelter and housing; targeted strategies for outreach, engagement, education and prevention; and harm reduction and encampment health and safety.

City says it is providing interim housing

Under its Streets to Homes Satellite Program, the city said it is providing temporary, interim housing for people living outside.

The program will create up to 125 spaces for people sleeping outdoors, the city said. People who are provided with the spaces through the interim housing program will be given support, including case management, harm reduction support, infection prevention measures and active monitoring for COVID-19.

The city said its Streets to Homes outreach teams are approaching people and couples who are living outside and giving them an opportunity to move into the units in the program.

"Clients at sites identified for this new Streets to Homes Satellite Program are being notified of clearing of the encampment sites they are on in accordance with our existing Interdepartmental protocol. Outreach teams will continue to engage with clients at these sites," the city said.

"The City of Toronto is focused on moving vulnerable individuals into safe spaces that are conducive to physical distancing and following public health recommendations," the city added.

As of May 1, a total of 964 people have been moved into hotels to enable physical distancing, according to the city.

The city said its shelter, support and housing administration is developing plans to create more space at other hotel locations, but it needs to ensure there are enough staff on site, the locations meet fire safety standards and there are contracts in place for food, cleaning and linen.

It said it also needs to develop a transportation plan and a schedule to organize the move of people into hotels.

As of Friday, there were 223 cases of COVID-19 in Toronto's shelters, the city said.

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