The Ontario Superior Court of Justice today refused to grant an injunction that would have required the City of Toronto to suspend the enforcement of its Parks Bylaw that prohibits camping in City parks during the current pandemic.
The court, in its decision, acknowledged that the “City has taken many steps in its shelter system to respond to COVID-19.”
Since March of this year, more than 948 people have been referred to safe, indoor space directly from encampments and moved with their belongings. The City’s Streets to Homes team and partner agencies engage with individuals sleeping outside every day, year-round to offer indoor space with support. A multi-divisional City team and partners do wellness checks and safety assessments at encampments, and once everyone has been offered safe, inside space with time to go through belongings, then the site is cleaned. So far, 62 encampment sites have been cleared this year.
As well, 40 new shelter locations have been opened to create physical distancing in the shelter system and provide spaces for people to move indoor from encampments. Currently, 25 new locations are active, providing close to 2,300 spaces in new temporary shelters and hotel programs. In addition, the City has successfully housed more than 2,000 people who were homeless in shelters into permanent housing through a combination of housing allowances and rent-geared-to-income units, which represents a 50 per cent increase from last year.
The City estimates there are currently between 400 and 500 individuals living outside in City parks, on boulevards and in ravines across Toronto. Conditions in encampments create significant health and safety concerns for those living outside, as well as for the community-at-large. Lack of clean drinking water, access to showers and washrooms, medical care, harm reduction services, as well as safe heating sources give rise to dangerous conditions in encampments and the areas surrounding them. To date this year, Toronto Fire Service has responded to 189 fire calls in encampments. In 2019, there were 73 fire calls to encampments. Tragically, one person died this year as a result of an encampment fire.
The court also acknowledged that “parks are public resources, intended to be available and used by everyone. This is particularly the case during the pandemic when outdoor spaces are needed for people to meet and engage in recreational activities that cannot be done indoors. The encampments impair the use of parks by others.”
The City of Toronto’s Street-to-Homes program operates 24/7, 365 days a year, engaging with people living outside, building relationships, and forging individual plans for housing. Since the program has been operating, more than 6,000 people living in encampments have been successfully housed. After one year, 80 per cent have remained housed.
The City continues to work to create capacity for people living in encampments to come inside during COVID-19. Today’s ruling does not order the City to clear encampments, rather, the ruling does not prevent the City from clearing an encampment when shelter and housing options become available to those living in encampments or as required by the circumstances.
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