The City of Toronto continues to assist and protect people experiencing homelessness through COVID-19 vaccination, an increased focus on infection and prevention control (IPAC) measures in the shelter system, a pilot COVID-19 rapid testing program for new shelter residents and referring people to safer inside space with supports including meals, laundry, harm reduction and access to a housing worker.
As outlined in a recent City Manager’s report, 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 is also much higher. There have been 111 fire events in encampments so far this year (as of June 16), including nine in the past week. Toronto Fire Services is currently responding to an encampment fire, and, fortunately, there is no report of injuries.
Early this morning, Toronto Fire Services responded to an uncontrolled fire involving a mattress and box spring in a tent, in an encampment outside Lamport Stadium. Fortunately, responding crews were able to control this incident quickly and without injury.
Also this morning, Toronto Fire Services responded to a fire in an encampment on Clarence Square, where upon arrival they were met with hostility by residents as they advanced to control the fire and eliminate the associated risks.
In 2020, Toronto Fire Services 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.
More than 11,300 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered to people experiencing homelessness and people who are precariously housed, as well as people working in the homelessness and housing sector through on-site clinics in shelters or mobile clinics in the community. As of June 11, 54 per cent of people staying in the City’s shelter system that week had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The City has launched a new mobile vaccine peer ambassador program led by The Neighbourhood Group working closely with the Toronto Shelter Network, Toronto Public Health (TPH), Ontario Health teams, Inner City Health Associates and other health sector partners to address vaccine hesitancy and increase vaccination rates for people experiencing homelessness. Peer ambassadors will visit shelter sites with identified lower vaccine uptake and align their visits with the Enhanced Mobile Operations clinics.
The City continues to support healthcare partners and the Province in rolling out vaccinations to people experiencing homelessness and frontline workers in the homelessness sector. All shelter locations have now had at least one vaccine clinic offered on-site.
Enhanced Mobile Operations Clinics comprised of teams from Toronto Public Health, Toronto Paramedic Services, Toronto Fires Services and the Sunnybrook Centre for Prehospital Medicine are attending shelters, drop-ins and encampment sites to immunize people seven days a week. Teams have scheduled 37 clinics this week for shelter sites, shelter hotels, and drop-ins. The City has also provided additional vaccination opportunities for people experiencing homelessness and frontline staff in the homelessness sector through dedicated centralized clinics.
The City is committed to decreasing the risk of outbreaks in the shelter system and continues to provide enhanced supports to ensure immunization and IPAC measures – already established in these settings – are being followed and, where necessary, improved upon. Toronto Public Health has provided recommendations related to cleaning and disinfection and developed training modules that will be available to all shelter staff. The City has also engaged an external IPAC consultant and representatives are visiting sites in the shelter system, providing additional guidance, and is facilitating in-person training and education including on-site environmental services staff. Each shelter has identified an IPAC lead to coordinate IPAC work and to focus on continuous improvements as needed.
There has been a steady reduction in COVID-19 outbreaks over the last few weeks. This is the second week with no active outbreaks in the City’s shelter system.
The City is piloting a rapid antigen testing program at priority sites for new admissions, including sites that offer spaces to people living outside and in encampments. Rapid antigen testing, which provides a screening result within fifteen minutes, is another important step the City is taking to support and protect people in the shelter system during the COVID-19 pandemic. Anyone who screens positive will have a confirmatory laboratory test and be offered supports and safe isolation space.
To help save lives and reduce overdoses in the homeless population, the City recently launched a comprehensive toolkit of harm reduction resources for shelters to provide expanded support for overdose prevention. The toolkit will help equip shelter operators, who have been at the frontline of the overdose crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic response, to implement life-saving measures and support Toronto residents who are affected by the opioid poisoning crisis.
There are more than 6,000 shelter spaces in the city today. There is capacity in the shelter system for people staying in encampments who accept offers of safe inside space. From April 2020 to May 2021, almost 5,800 people experiencing homelessness moved from the shelter system into permanent housing.
The City has helped almost 1,700 people staying in encampments move to safe inside space since the start of the pandemic, including 118 people in the past month.
Since July 2020, the City’s Streets to Homes and partner agency staff have engaged more than 20,000 times with people living outside, including those staying in encampments – listening to and understanding their needs on a daily basis with care and compassion, and offering them safe inside space with supports and referrals to permanent housing. To date in 2021, Parks Ambassadors made 732 referrals to Street to Homes for people experiencing homelessness in parks. Streets to Homes staff and Parks Ambassadors are not involved in enforcement activities or posting of notices.
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. City parks must be ready, safe and accessible to all residents of Toronto. In particular, parks give residents living in apartment buildings or shared housing spaces a safe outdoor space to play and exercise.
The City has an interdivisional response to encampments that is being coordinated by the Office of Emergency Management. The City’s objective is to ensure that people experiencing homelessness feel comfortable accepting offers of safe inside space with supports and referrals to permanent housing, through efforts to vaccinate people experiencing homelessness, enhance IPAC measures in the shelter system and work with those living in encampments.
The City does 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.
There are an estimated 60 to 80 people staying in encampments at Lamport Stadium, Trinity Bellwoods Park, Moss Park and Alexandra Park, with far more tents and makeshift structures (more than 200) in those encampments than people.
Since mid-December 2020 the City has opened 244 new affordable and supportive homes with supports, including 100 modular housing units. Currently, there are 82 projects 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.
The City has budgeted to spend $663.2 million on homelessness and Housing First services and supports in 2021, almost double the amount spent in 2019 at $365.8 million.
Toronto is home to more than 2.9 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.