Updated June 24, 2021
I have heard from many of you asking me why I voted in support of City Council’s goal of zero encampments. I want to offer clarity and transparency as this is an issue I care about deeply.
I will repeat that I unequivocally condemn the use of force that we witnessed at Lamport and Trinity.
My vote for zero encampments was an aspirational vote to reaffirm support for housing for all, not an endorsement of police-enforced clearings. My vote was in support of Toronto’s Housing Action Plan, affordable, supportive, and transitional housing initiatives. Plans I have championed for years.
There was no vote at City Council to endorse or support the actions we saw on Monday. I would have never voted to support that action. I hope people can understand my vote within the context of my voting history on this issue.
I have tried unsuccessfully for years to have homelessness declared an emergency. I have advocated for safer conditions in our shelters. I have relentlessly lobbied all levels of government for expanded housing options, including affordable and supportive housing options, rent subsidies, and transfers.
I have also called for a reduction in police services, and for the disarmament of police. The actions at Lamport and Trinity only reaffirm for me that we need a very different model of community safety and care.
I want to be clear that I was never consulted or informed that there would be a militarized police response to the Trinity Bellwoods encampment. In fact, prior to the Council vote, I was assured by staff that there would not be a repeat of what we saw at Lamport. That assurance informed my vote.
As someone who experienced homelessness as a youth, I recognize the importance of having safe and secure spaces, and wrap-around social supports to transition to permanent housing.
I will continue to meet with staff and - with all the power and authority my position has - to urge them to take a very different response in working with residents in Alexandra Park and Moss Park.
That will continue to be my priority and my focus.
June 22, 2021
I am very frustrated and frankly horrified that the City continues to use a large police presence to clear encampments. Having dozens of police officers descend on people is a clear contradiction to the multiple statements that the City is prioritizing the care and safety of unhoused people.
This is not reasonable or measured. We need dialogue and de-escalation if we are to support those most in need of shelter and housing.
At City Council two weeks ago, my colleagues and I - the ones who represent the majority of encampment residents - had our motions defeated when we tried to pursue a compassionate, human rights-based approach to providing shelter and housing for encampment residents. For years - prior to the pandemic and well before the rise in encampments, I have been calling the housing crisis an emergency - and my motions have been defeated every time.
I understand that some encampment residents do not feel safe in the shelters, for a number of personal reasons, but I simply cannot ignore the extreme risks for people living in encampments. In addition to fire risks, weather exposure, the lack of sanitary options, or regular meals, there is lateral violence and predatory behavior by some seeking to take advantage of encampment residents. We also know that there are significant long-term health risks associated with experiencing homelessness and living outside. From conversations I’ve had with encampment residents, it is clear that not all the tents or structures in parks are being used as shelters. I am concerned by the reports that many of these surplus structures are used to traffic unsafe narcotics, weapons, or human trafficking.
For those reasons, I continue to believe that the safety risk of people living outdoors in encampments outweighs the risks within the shelter system. Within the hotels, people have access to regular meals, harm reduction services, and housing workers. There is overwhelming evidence that this kind of stability creates far better outcomes for long-term housing. A tent will never be a suitable home and that is why I will continue to support city staff in their efforts to encourage people to come inside.
However, I absolutely condemn the current tactic of using an oversized police presence to intimidate and clear encampment residents. I feel very strongly that City staff must continue to work with encampment residents to find adequate and dignified emergency accommodation in the short term, while the City continues to ramp up permanent housing solutions. This use of police force makes the very hard and good work of our Streets to Homes and other outreach staff even harder.
I know there is far more common ground between what residents of the encampments and City staff want. All parties agree that no one should live on a long-term basis in a park, putting their human dignity, safety, and security in peril. Ensuring access to adequate, secure, affordable housing for this population has always been my end goal.