toronto encampments

Toronto secures enough hotel space to shelter everyone in 4 largest homeless encampments

The city is ramping up its efforts to provide indoor shelter to those experiencing homelessness who are living in the largest encampments in four parks throughout the city.

Toronto's worsening homelessness crisis was put on display over the past year when many of those without housing chose to take up residence in city parks rather than subject themselves to COVID-19 outbreaks and what have been described as sub-par conditions in the shelter system, and the city has been trying its best to get rid of these encampments ever since.

Citing fire issues and the fact that camping in parks is illegal, the city maintains that encampments are not safe, and a new program called "Pathway Inside" focuses on those living at four priority sites the city says are subject to increased health and safety concerns: Moss Park, Alexandra Park, Trinity Bellwoods and Lamport Stadium.

"The City has secured safe space inside hotel programs for everyone at these four sites," reads a news release published by the city Tuesday.

According to the city, the Pathway Inside team has been engaging with people living in encampments daily to better understand their needs when it comes to providing safe indoor space, which is especially needed considering many homeless residents have said they prefer staying outside to the strict rules and conditions inside shelters.

"There are many varied and complex reasons why someone may live outside," reads the release. "Through ongoing engagement, the City heard that people need programs close to their existing supports, with inside space not just for single occupancy but also for couples. They also need on-site harm reduction. Pathway Inside addresses these needs."

In February, the city opened a temporary downtown hotel shelter with more than 250 rooms at 45 The Esplanade for people living outside, and the city says it's prioritizing people living at the four sites who have engaged with staff for this location.

Teams are assisting residents with the transition to this hotel, according to the city, as well as other hotel programs by April.

The city says nearly 1,400 people experiencing homelessness and living outside have accepted referrals by the city and its partner agencies to inside spaces since the start of the pandemic, and more than 40 additional sites across Toronto have opened as part of the COVID-19 response to provide physical distancing within the shelter system.

Despite these numbers, the city's shelter system is consistently at or near capacity, and advocates have long argued that there is nowhere near enough space for the more than 10,000 people experiencing homelessness in Toronto regardless of the city's claims to the contrary.

Where advocates, those experiencing homelessness and the city do seem to agree, however, is that affordable and supportive housing is ultimately the only solution to this ongoing crisis.

"While the City will continue efforts to assist those living outside to transition into temporary shelters, permanent housing is the ultimate solution to homelessness," reads the release.

"In 2020, the City helped almost 6,100 people experiencing homelessness move from the City's shelter system into permanent housing. In the last two months alone, the City and its partner agencies secured permanent housing for at least 28 individuals who were sleeping outside, some in encampments."

Many unhoused residents have previously stated intentions to reject offers for temporary shelter and remain in encampments until permanent housing is available, so it remains to be seen whether the Pathway Inside program will successfully rid these four parks of tents as the city intends.

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez

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