The City of Toronto continues to help and protect people experiencing homelessness through COVID-19 vaccinations, an increased focus on infection prevention and control (IPAC) measures in the shelter system, a COVID-19 rapid testing program for new shelter residents, and by referring people to indoor accommodation and access to a housing worker.
Since June 15, 152 people staying in encampments, including 43 people this past week, have been referred to safe inside space. In the past year, the City’s Streets to Homes staff have visited Alexandra Park 157 times and Lamport Stadium 228 times to offer encampment occupants safe indoor accommodation with critical supports. Since last spring, the City has referred more than 780 people from Moss Park, Lamport Stadium, Alexandra Park and Trinity Bellwoods Park to safe inside space.
The City will continue to engage with people experiencing homelessness, including those at encampments, encourage them to accept safe indoor space, offer them the supports they need and ultimately secure permanent housing. Streets to Homes staff have been doing this important work with people living outside long before the pandemic started and will continue to do it. More than 1,770 people staying in encampments have been referred to safe inside spaces since April 2020.
This week, at a downtown encampment, 11 people accepted referrals to safe indoor space. City staff will continue to engage with the one remaining encampment occupant at this site to encourage them to come inside.
This week at Alexandra Park, 14 encampment occupants accepted safe indoor accommodation with supports and 12 left the park of their own accord. At Lamport Stadium, two people accepted a referral to a shelter or hotel program, five people already had a space in the shelter system, three people left of their own accord and one person declined an offer of permanent housing.
City parks must be ready, safe and accessible to all. As part of the restoration efforts at Alexandra Park, City staff have inspected trees for damage and completed remediation as required, cut the turf and applied pesticide. Aeration and seeding are scheduled for next week.
City staff removed a portion of the fencing at Alexandra Park today. Fencing was erected by the City to protect City crews and encampment occupants, as well as to allow crews to safely remove debris and begin the task of restoring and repairing the grounds for general public use so it can be reopened as quickly as possible. Public access is now available in the middle and northern portions of the park which includes Scadding Court Community Centre, the library, outdoor pool, playground, skateboard area and splash pad, which had remained closed due to the encampment. Fencing will remain in the south end while restoration efforts continue. The Scadding Court Community Centre is a priority community centre and a member of the Association of Community Centres focused on emergency response, social, community, recreational and economic development for low-income, underserved and racialized populations.
Yesterday, a portion of the fencing at Trinity Bellwoods Park was removed. Staff will continue to monitor and re-evaluate the seed growth of the grass over the next three weeks to determine when the remaining fencing can be removed.
Currently, an estimated 25 people are staying in encampments at Moss Park and Cherry Beach Park, with approximately 38 tents and makeshift structures in these encampments.
As outlined in the recent City Manager’s report to City Council, encampments contravene several chapters of the Municipal Code and are not a solution to homelessness. The health outcomes for people who stay outside are complex and serious. Individuals living in encampments are also at risk of contracting COVID-19.
The risk of fires in encampments is also high. There have been 131 emergency fire responses in encampments so far this year, including one in the past week. In 2020, Toronto Fire Services (TFS) responded to 253 fires in encampments – a 247 per cent increase over the same period in 2019. The risk of serious injury or death to occupants of encampments, as well as to first responders and the public, as a result of fire, is serious.
So far this year, Toronto Paramedic Services, TFS and Toronto Police Service have collectively responded to 117 emergency calls to the encampment in Moss Park alone.
Since mid-December 2020, the City has opened 244 new affordable and supportive homes, including 100 modular homes. Currently, 82 projects are in the City’s affordable rental development pipeline, which will create 10,676 new, permanently affordable rental homes once completed. Over the next 12 months, the City is aiming to make at least 1,248 new permanent affordable and supportive housing opportunities ready for occupancy. This includes 798 net new affordable and supportive rental homes under the HousingTO action plan.
To this end, over the last several months the City has announced nine new supportive housing projects consisting of more than 700 new homes across the city. The new housing will be developed through acquisition and renovation of existing properties or modular construction on City-owned or controlled lands. A map and information is available online.
Bringing people inside means there are fewer people experiencing homelessness living outdoors and exposed to higher health and safety risks. Supportive housing offers a warm, safe place to call home; the necessities of life such as food, washrooms, and laundry facilities; and the opportunity for strengthened community connections.
All occupants of encampments and residents in shelters, including the hotel program, are offered a housing worker to help them move from a shelter into secure permanent housing.
More than 16,700 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered to people experiencing homelessness and those precariously housed, and to staff working in the shelter sector. As of July 23, 61 per cent of people staying in the City’s shelter system that week had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 42 per cent of people staying in the City’s shelter system that week received the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
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