homeless encampments gardiner

Activists in Toronto unite to stop clearing of homeless encampments under Gardiner

Activists from all walks of life gathered in Toronto this morning to try and stop the city and Toronto Police from clearing several homeless encampments under the Gardiner Expressway.

The city had previously placed a moratorium on dismantling encampments throughout the pandemic, but that decision has since been reversed and those experiencing homelessness continue to have their tents and belongings cleared as they try to self-isolate in makeshift structures.

"What's happening right now is just so unnecessary. It's against common sense to be doing this right now," said Jennifer Evans, an acitivist and CEO of software company SqueezeCMM who was on-site to help those under the Gardiner this morning.

"They are robbing these people of their dignity and it's just offensive."

Evans started her day at Bay and Lakeshore around 7:30 a.m. this morning, where a bulldozer was set to clear a tent that still had a person inside.

The situation was resolved only after an elementary school teacher named Ana stood directly in front of the bulldozer, putting herself in danger in order to help someone less fortunate.

Evans said city officials on-site told them that nothing further would happen today, so she and fellow activists made their way down to Spadina, where police were threatening to clear the belongings and tents of several other individuals experiencing homelessness. 

But it wasn't until they eventually convinced city officials and police to stop the dismantling there too that Evans was informed that — contrary to what they had been promised —  everything at Lakeshore had been bulldozed after they left.

"The problem is we can't get a straight answer out of anybody, and these are peoples' lives at stake," Evans told me when explaining that Toronto Police, Streets to Homes (a city-funded program to help people with a history of homelessness transition to permanent housing) and other city agencies with actual authority simply do not know what the other is doing most of the time.

She said some of the people whose tents have been cleared have been offered hotel rooms to self-isolate, but others are being sent to shelters which are even worse than tents due to ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks.

As of May 14 at 4 p.m., there have been a total of 346 positive COVID-19 cases linked to all shelter outbreaks in the city. There are currently at least 301 active outbreaks reported among the city's shelters, and two people experiencing homelessness have died from the virus in Toronto to date. 

"We either need to get people into hotels, and the city has loads of empty hotel rooms, or we have to let people self-isolate in tents," Evans said, adding that Seeds of Hope — an organization for which she serves as a board member — has been working for months to provide tents to let people isolate so they don't infect others if they do get sick.

If it were up to her, Evans says she would allow those experiencing homelessness to set up tents in several parks across the city and ensure that each location is equipped with food and sanitation tents for the duration of the pandemic. Then, she says, permanent options such as modular housing must be provided as quickly as possible.

She also said she and other advocates will continue to show up under the Gardiner each day to prevent encampments from being cleared.

"There's humanity here. These are people that just want to have lives and we treat them like trash," Evans told me through tears. 

"All they're trying to do is show us that they fell on hard times... They're not bad people, they just need a little help."

Lead photo by

Doug Johnson Hatlem

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