This morning, the City of Toronto began the enforcement of trespass notices that were issued at Alexandra Park on June 12. All individuals experiencing homelessness in this encampment, estimated to be between 28 and 35, are being offered safe, indoor space, with access to meals, showers and laundry, harm reduction, physical and mental health supports, and a housing worker. Occupants will be given time to pack two bags of belongings to take with them. All other belongings will be collected and stored for up to 30 days for future pickup. There are more than 60 structures on-site, including tents and makeshift structures.
The City will officially close Alexandra Park today to allow staff to engage with encampment occupants, encouraging them to accept offers of safe indoor accommodation. All individuals will be required to leave the park, which will allow City crews to start removing debris and restoring the grounds.
The Toronto Police Service will be present to ensure the safety of encampment occupants, City workers and the public. TPS, Toronto Fire Service and Toronto Paramedic Services have responded to 146 service calls to Alexandra Park this year. The City remains focused on providing a human services response to encampments and peaceful, voluntary referrals for people sleeping outdoors to safer, indoor accommodation.
As outlined in the City Manager’s report to City Council in June, 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. More information is available in the COVID-19 Response Update: Protecting People Experiencing Homelessness and Ensuring the Safety of the Shelter System report.
The risk of fires is also high. There have been 130 fire events in encampments so far this year, including two in the past week. In 2020, 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 residents of encampments, as a result of fire, is extremely high. Since 2010, seven people have lost their lives as a result of fires in encampments in Toronto.
City parks also must be ready, safe and accessible to all. Summer day camps scheduled at Alexandra Park have had to be cancelled this year because of the inaccessibility of the park due to the encampment. 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.
The community garden and City-operated outdoor pool at Alexandra Park will both be closed today for the safety of the public and employees. City staff, once encampment occupants have left the area, will begin to remove debris and start the process for restoring the grounds.
Currently, an estimated 60 to 70 people are staying in encampments at Lamport Stadium, Moss Park, Alexandra Park and Cherry Beach Park, with far more tents and makeshift structures (more than 130) in those encampments than people.
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, 108 people staying in encampments, including eight people this past week, have been referred to safe inside space. 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.
City staff attempting to assist those experiencing homelessness are increasingly facing intimidation, threats and criminal harassment by advocates or protestors at encampments. This behaviour is unacceptable, and the City is committed to ensuring that employees are protected from harassment in the workplace.
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 more information is available.
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 16,500 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 16, 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 41 per cent of people staying in the City’s shelter system that week received the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The City’s response to encampments takes into consideration the health and well-being of those living outside and the broader community needs, including access to green space for safe outdoor recreation during the pandemic, and upcoming summer parks programming and permitting requirements including for summer camps.
The City has an interdivisional response to encampments and will enforce bylaws at encampments after exhausting all options to help people move from encampments to safer, indoor spaces. Space remains available for all those living in encampments in the City’s shelters and its hotel program.
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