The City of Toronto responds to encampments by using the skill sets, tools, relationships and authorities of multiple City divisions and community partners to respond to the complex health and safety risks in and around encampments, facilitate access to safer inside spaces, removal of waste and debris, and ensure shared-use spaces are accessible to all.
The City operates a system of more than 1,500 parks and ravines as shared recreational spaces for the benefit of the community. Outreach efforts at these locations focus on engaging with individuals living in encampments and other outdoor areas to build trusting relationships, and help address immediate health and safety needs and find permanent housing. Outreach staff visit various sites daily to work with encampment occupants on referrals to space in the shelter system and to connect them with a housing worker. This engagement process continues once a person accepts an inside space to help ensure they have ongoing support and access to services.
The City’s Streets to Homes outreach team and partner agencies also conduct daily outreach on the streets to proactively connect with people living outdoors. Available 24 hours per day, seven days a week, year-round, they focus on establishing supportive relationships as a first step in addressing an individual’s immediate health and safety needs. They also provide supports to assist an individual in finding and then moving into shelter and housing. In 2022, there were approximately 1,277 referrals from Streets to Homes offering indoor space to those living outside and 1,112 of these Streets to Homes referrals were from encampments. The City cannot force people to come inside and use the many services offered in shelters but will continue to encourage people to take up offers of shelter and housing options.
All members of the community are welcome to use the City’s parks and right-of-ways, so long as they abide by the terms of City Bylaws, but living in an encampment is in violation of the City Parks Bylaw and Streets and Sidewalks Bylaw. Any decision on trespass enforcement is initiated only after outreach and engagement efforts, including referrals to inside space, have been unsuccessful.
The City is committed to making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring – but it cannot do it alone. New and enhanced investments are urgently needed from the Government of Canada and Province of Ontario to complement City investments and increase the supply of deeply affordable rental housing with supports that include harm reduction and mental health supports. In addition to new housing supply and support services, investments in homelessness prevention programs and poverty reduction measures are necessary to prevent more households from falling into homelessness. The City added an additional $1 million in investment to its EPIC program (Eviction Prevention in Community) to enhance preventative measures, but more investment is needed from the City’s partners in other orders of government.
All Toronto shelters work from this Housing First approach to ensure that shelter service delivery is premised on the idea that stable housing is the primary need for individuals or families experiencing homelessness. Last year alone the City helped more than 4,300 people move from the shelter system into permanent housing. The City’s shelter system has expanded from approximately 4,000 spaces in 2016 to around 9,000 beds today, offered at more than 100 locations across the city.
The City has done the work with partners in other orders of government to get supportive housing built to help thousands of people move from shelters and into permanent housing. This year, 1,200 more supportive housing opportunities will become available for those experiencing homelessness. Since 2014, City spending on housing has increased by 124 per cent and the 2023 budget invests $618 million in direct support for housing initiatives – an increase of $341.9 million.
In May 2022, City Council approved a new 24-Month Housing Recovery and Resilience Plan (2023-2024), aimed at creating 4,000 additional affordable and supportive housing opportunities in 2023 and 2024 with the support of the Government of Canada and Provincial Government including 2,500 new supportive and 1,500 affordable housing opportunities through the Canada Ontario Housing Benefit.
The City has continued to make significant progress on advancing the HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan. Since the beginning on the HousingTO Plan, City Council has approved investments to support the delivery of more than 20,000 new affordable and supportive homes. Additionally, there are currently about 15,000 homes, across an estimated 150 projects, that are active in the development pipeline. While the City has committed substantial investments towards the supply of new homes, additional federal and Province of Ontario investments are also needed to support many of these projects.
From January 2020 to end of Jan 2023, more than 14,000 people previously experiencing homelessness have been moved into permanent housing (including private market rental, supportive housing, and rent-geared-to-income housing).
Toronto is home to more than three million people whose diversity and experiences make this great city Canada’s leading economic engine and one of the world’s most diverse and livable cities. As the fourth largest city in North America, Toronto is a global leader in technology, finance, film, music, culture and innovation, and consistently places at the top of international rankings due to investments championed by its government, residents and businesses. For more information visit the City’s website or follow us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.