The City of Toronto has an approach to helping individuals in encampments that focuses on:
Encampments are only cleared once everyone has been offered safer, inside space and notice has been provided with time to go through belongings.
Addressing homelessness, including encampments, is a complex social issue. It requires all levels of government, community agencies and other stakeholders to work together to provide public, social and health-related supports.
Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a noticeable increase in the number and size of encampments. This is due to a number of reasons such as:
The City’s pandemic response initially focused on opening temporary shelters to create physical distancing in the shelter system. However, since late-April 2020, in response to the growing numbers of safety concerns for those sleeping outdoors, focus has shifted to also providing safer indoor spaces for people staying in encampments.
The City and community partners have mobilized a COVID-19 response to support those living outside that includes:
The City’s Emergency Operations Centre, which has been activated due to COVID-19, provides multiple divisions with resources, including logistical and other supports to help respond to encampments.
The City’s Streets to Homes outreach team and partner agencies do daily outreach to proactively connect with people living in encampments.
Outreach workers are familiar with encampments and the individuals in them, offering:
The City is not currently distributing tents to individuals experiencing homelessness; however, this is being reviewed.
Visit Streets to Homes Street Outreach & Support Program for more information.
Streets to Homes and Toronto Paramedic Services conduct ongoing wellness checks of individuals in encampments and recently partnered with Inner City Health Associates to provide additional nursing support to ensure increased access to health services. The City has provided clinic space for this partnership so clients can discuss and have their health needs responded to in a confidential setting.
The City has also deployed a Multi-Disciplinary Outreach team (M-DOT) made up of providers from various organizations that deliver services to the most vulnerable individuals on the street and in shelters. M-DOT includes Outreach Workers, Case Managers, a Registered Nurse, a Housing Worker and part-time Psychiatrists.
Park washrooms are open to the public and many remain open in spring and summer.
In addition, the City has opened a number of facilities with showers, washrooms and drinking water for all individuals in need of these services. Supplies at these stations are replenished regularly. Visit Washroom and Sanitation Services for a list of locations and hours.
Since the pandemic began, the City has:
Between April 2020 and May 2021, the City:
Over the past 10 years, the City has:
The City is aware there has been an increase in the number and size of encampments as well as concerns about the safety and well-being of people living outdoors, and the impact on the local community.
There may be a misperception that living outdoors is a safer alternative to staying in a congregate setting such as a shelter during a pandemic.
The safest place for anyone experiencing homelessness in Toronto is inside, in a shelter, hotel or, ultimately, housing. Conditions in encampments create significant health and safety concerns for those living outside, including:
The City has a multi-division encampment operations group that assesses risks in order to prioritize encampment response and better serve those in encampments.
The City remains committed to strengthening its Housing First approach to street and encampment outreach and providing wrap-around, client-centred case management supports to people living outdoors.
In July 2022, the City accepted Ombudsman Toronto’s recommendations contained in the interim report Investigation into the City’s Processes for Clearing Encampments in 2021.
Ombudsman Toronto identified the importance of updating the City’s 2005 Encampment Interdepartmental Protocol (IDP) that was adopted by Council in 2005.
To effectively update the protocol, The City is consulting with people with lived experiences in encampments, community organizations that provide services to people impacted by homelessness, and internal and external stakeholders working in the fields of homelessness and human rights. The City will also engage Business Improvement Areas, Neighbourhood Associations and Resident Associations to represent the voices of affected communities. There will also be additional consultations to solicit the unique feedback of Indigenous Peoples with lived experience and Indigenous service providers.
Visit IDPupdate.ca to learn more or provide feedback on the consultations.