@ Sima Basak
The City of Toronto continues to support 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 with access to a housing worker.
Since June 15, 195 people staying in encampments, including 19 people this past week, have been referred to safe inside space. Since last spring, the City has referred more than 825 people from Moss Park, Lamport Stadium, Alexandra Park and Trinity Bellwoods Park to safe indoor accommodation.
The City is continuing to engage with people experiencing homelessness, including those at encampments, encouraging them to accept safe indoor space, offering them the supports they need and help to 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 1,870 people staying in encampments have been referred to safe inside spaces since April 2020.
All occupants of encampments and residents in shelters, including temporary COVID-19 sites, are offered a housing worker to help them move from a shelter into secure permanent housing.
During Heat Warnings, including the one we saw this week, Streets to Homes and Fred Victor Keep Cool Project street outreach teams do additional wellness checks, advising people living outside of Emergency Cooling Centre locations, providing them with water, and recommending that if they stay outdoors, to move to a shaded area. Shelter providers also normally restrict discharging clients during a Heat Warning.
City parks must b safe and accessible to all. Fencing remains in the south end of Alexandra Park while restoration and remediation efforts continue. Public access continues to be available in the middle and northern portions of Alexandra park, including the Scadding Court Community Centre, the library, outdoor pool, playground, skateboard area and splash pad, which had remained closed 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.
Currently, an estimated 25 people are staying in encampments at Moss Park and Cherry Beach Park, with approximately 33 tents and makeshift structures in these encampments.
As outlined in last June’s 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 report is available here . PDF
The risk of fires in encampments is also high. As of August 12, there have been 138 emergency fire responses in encampments this year, including three 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.
Since mid-December 2020, the City has opened more than 570 supportive homes. This includes new modular housing, acquisitions, as well as the City’s Rapid Rehousing Initiative that leverages Toronto Community Housing units. The City is aiming to open approximately 1,170 new permanent, affordable and supportive homes over the next 18 months, with about 1,000 ready for occupancy by the end of 2021 and the remainder by spring 2022. Currently 82 projects are in the City’s affordable rental development pipeline, which will create 10,676 new, permanently affordable rental homes once completed.
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 here .
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.
The City is also investing $1 million through a one-time Daytime Drop-in Indoor Space Fund to expand or reopen safe, daytime indoor space for people experiencing homelessness. This investment is expected to result in over 9,000 square feet of net new indoor drop-in space, 150 net new operating hours, and over 1,500 net new meals provided indoors. This fund was developed in collaboration with the Toronto Drop-in Network to ensure the needs of those they serve are addressed and will support existing daytime drop-in program providers with small capital projects and operating funding. This investment addresses the need for increased access to safe daytime indoor space for people experiencing homelessness, which was significantly limited during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some people visiting encampments have been doing so for social reasons due the lack of accessible drop-in spaces and recreational activities in the community.
More than 17,450 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 August 6, 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 45 per cent of people staying in the City’s shelter system that week received the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.