The homelessness emergency is a public health crisis that requires urgent action.

Before the COVID-19 global pandemic, Toronto was already facing a homelessness crisis of massive proportion. During the pandemic, the crisis has become more visible and incredibly more acute. Estimates put the number of people in shelters, temporary respites and encampments at over 10,000. There has been a marked increase in people experiencing complex addiction and mental health challenges living on the streets. The magnitude of this crisis requires a co-ordinated, intergovernmental, human-rights-based emergency response.

The safety and stability of our neighbourhoods is at risk. Advocates and front line workers supporting the encampments continue to ring alarm bells about the inhumane conditions that people are living with. Residents who live adjacent to the encampments and shelters are demanding that the City do more to find more appropriate and permanent housing solutions for people who are under-housed.

Against the backdrop of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the homelessness emergency in Toronto - and across Canada - is a public health crisis that requires urgent action.

It has taken us years to get to this point, as successive governments have abdicated their responsibility to ensure that people had safe and affordable access to shelter, food, mental health and addictions support. The repercussions of decades of underinvestment from all three levels of government is not going to be fixed overnight, but there ARE things you can do now.

To learn more about the housing and homelessness crisis, and what you can do to help, please keep reading.

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In 2019, the Federal Government brought into law that Canada recognizes housing as a fundamental human right. In the midst of this global pandemic, it is time that they honour that declaration, and support the cities that are on the front line of this humanitarian crisis.

Issues contributing to homelessness, mental health and addictions are all within the legislative jurisdiction of the Provincial and Federal Governments. Without the active participation from the other orders of government, Toronto will be unable to meet the demand for affordable and supportive housing, an overdose epidemic, mental health and public safety issues.

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So, what is the homelessness crisis, why are people living in encampments and not permanent housing, what has been done, and what can be done at the political level?

Why is there a homelessness crisis in Toronto?

  • Two trends are largely responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 20 years: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty. Rental costs have increased dramatically and a lack of affordable housing has increased to record high numbers.
  • Limited availability of shelter beds and supportive housing.
  • Chronic provincial and federal underfunding of mental health and addiction services and supports, and an ongoing opioid crisis.
  • In the mid-1990s, Federal and Provincial governments stopped building and investing in social housing.
  • Indigenous Peoples are overrepresented amongst those experiencing homelessness in Toronto because of historical trauma and oppression, maltreatment, and cultural erosion through the exploitation of colonization, residential schools, and the 60s Scoop.
  • Contributing factors to racialized communities experiencing homelessness in Canada include but are not limited to discrimination, language barriers, historical trauma, and colonization. 
  • Women's homelessness can be linked to failures in systems like criminal justice, child welfare, healthcare and education. Discriminatory policies and services drive intergenerational cycles of homelessness, housing instability, marginalization & violence.

Why are we seeing more encampments in Toronto and Cities across Canada since the start of COVID-19?

Encampments reflect the Canadian governments’ failure to successfully implement the right to adequate housing. During the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis, the number and size of encampments has grown across the entire City. Someone might live in an encampment because:

  • Shelters have had COVID-19 outbreaks, due to congregate living settings and shared washrooms;
  • Some individuals have had negative experiences in certain shelters, and feel unsafe;
  • Homophobia or transphobia in shelters;
  • The physical conditions of some shelters remind people of traumatizing institutions, like prisons or residential schools;
  • Others have no place to go due to Provincial services like crisis beds and detox facilities that are no longer available or were discharged from correctional facilities without an adequate housing plan;
  • At the start of the global pandemic, encampment clearing was paused and the focus shifted to the safety of those in encampments and living outdoors.

What has the City accomplished since COVID-19?

When the crisis started, City of Toronto staff worked non-stop creating distance in the shelter system and managed to open and operationalize more than 30 temporary facilities, on top of the 75 shelters and respite sites that the City and its partners operate. The result of their hard work has moved 3,500 people from existing crowded spaces into the new sites as well as permanent housing.

  • Moved more than 600 people from 43 encampments to inside safe spaces including interim housing, hotels and shelters which offer physical distanced accommodations and include supports like meals, programming and housing case management
  • At least 180 people have been staying at encampments in and around Moss Park and outreach included offers to coordinate transportation to accommodation for individuals.
  • Since mid-March, the City has moved more than 2,000 people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing, through housing allowances and rent-geared-to-income units.
  • Established two first-of-its-kind in Canada recovery and isolation facilities for individuals experiencing homelessness who tested positive for COVID-19 where they could safely recover with wrap-around medical care.

At the June 2020 Council meeting, I put forward a motion that was adopted by Council that called for immediate action from the Provincial and Federal governments to end homelessness during COVID-19. My motion will come as no surprise, as I have been urgently calling for an intergovernmental emergency response to end homelessness for the past three years.

In July 2020, City Council passed a motion to legally challenge Premier Ford’s Bill 184 which makes changes to Ontario’s Housing Act, making it easier for landlords to evict tenants. The City Solicitor will try to stop the 6,000 pending July 31 evictions (and an increase in people being forced to live on the streets), and to re-establish tenants’ right to a fair hearing.

Who has the power to end homelessness and increase affordable housing?

The Canadian Constitution sets out the responsibilities of the Federal and Provincial governments, which does not recognize municipalities as a separate order of government, and gives provinces exclusive control over municipalities, including the rules that govern them. The issues contributing to homelessness are all within the legislative jurisdiction of the Provincial and Federal Governments.

However, Toronto is carrying the regional workload for homelessness caused by the Provincial and Federal governments’ chronic lack of funding and we need each level of government to immediately take action to provide funding, policy and program tools to augment services for homeless individuals, including mental health and addictions.

 

As you see, issues around Housing and homelessness are shared across all three levels of government. The City of Toronto is tasked with administering legislation and responsibilities set by the Provincial and Federal governments. Without the active participation and commitment to sustainable funding from the other orders of government, Toronto will be unable to meet the demand for affordable and supportive housing, an overdose epidemic, mental health and public safety issues.

What has the City of Toronto done to address the lack of permanent affordable and supportive housing?

City Council adopted the HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan to address housing and homelessness challenges in the City of Toronto. It has an ambitious aim to help over 341,000 households over the next 10 years through a number of key actions including approving 40,000 new permanent affordable rental homes (including 18,000 supportive housing units) and helping people achieve and maintain housing stability.

HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan is estimated to cost all orders of government $24 billion to deliver. Of this, the City has requested a Federal commitment of $7.9 billion ($6.43 billion outstanding) and Provincial request of $7.0 billion ($6.96 billion outstanding)

 

  Learn more about the HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan

  What will the HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan Achieve?

What am I doing to address the lack of permanent affordable and supportive housing?

I know that many people can’t wait 10 years for the Housing Action Plan to be complete before getting support. Since being elected in 2010, I have directed over $20-Million in Community Benefits funding towards new and existing affordable housing projects in Toronto Centre.

Over the past 5 years, I have also brought forward many motions on the issues of housing, homelessness, and encampments. They include:

Additional Resources

Who are the community experts and organizations?

Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness (TAEH): The Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness (TAEH) is a community-based collective impact initiative that recognizes the critical importance of working in a new way towards our common vision of zero chronic and episodic homelessness in Toronto.

Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH): The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness leads a national movement of individuals, organizations and communities working together to end homelessness in Canada. The CAEH leads a national movement of individuals, organizations and communities working together to end homelessness in Canada.

Toronto Drop-In Network (TDIN): The Toronto Drop-In Network is an active member-based coalition of 51 organizations that run 59 diverse drop-in centres across the city of Toronto. TDIN members work with people who are homeless, marginally housed, or socially isolated, including men, women, transgender and non-binary people, youth and seniors. Visit their website here.

Dixon Hall: Dixon Hall’s Housing Services department has been providing shelter services for the homeless and vulnerably housed in the city of Toronto for more than two decades.

Covenant House: Covenant House is the largest agency in Canada serving youth who are homeless, trafficked or at risk. Covenant House is inclusive, intentional and impactful.

Fred Victor: Fred Victor is a social service charitable organization that fosters long-lasting and positive change in the lives of homeless and low-income people living across Toronto.

Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network: The Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network (WNHHN) is a collective of diverse women, including those with lived expertise, who are working to eliminate homelessness and housing insecurity for women, girls, and gender-diverse peoples across Canada

 

Additional Reading

Additional reading

Research

Resources

  • Homeless Hub: The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness is the largest national research institute devoted to homelessness in Canada. The COH is the curator of the Homeless Hub – a library of over 30,000 resources.
  • Faulkner Report In 2015, Grant Faulkner died of smoke inhalation while sleeping in a makeshift shack in Scarborough. As a result of his death, there was an inquest.
  • Health Commons Solutions Lab is an organization in Toronto and currently working with local agencies to support vulnerable tenants in rooming houses in Cabbagetown. They are tying mental health and housing together.
  • Sign the Canadian alliance to end homelessness six-point plan campaign to end homelessness at a federal level.

Support Resources

If members of the community have concerns about encampments, they should reach out to the appropriate organization.

Web

www.toronto.ca/COVID-19

Information on the COVID-19 response includes focusing on the City’s emergency shelter system, outreach, housing support, sanitation and washroom services, and many other COVID-19 resources.

311

3-1-1 | 416-338-0889 (TTY) Report concerns about:

Central Intake

416-397-5637
Telephone support to individuals seeking access to emergency shelter.

Police Non-Emergency

416-808-2222 | 416-467-0493 (TTY)
Report crimes where no person is in immediate danger (i.e. theft, vandalism, fraud).

Toronto Fire Services General Inquiries

416-338-9050 | [email protected]
Concerns about fire safety in encampments.

9-1-1

In an emergency, always call 911 (fires, crimes in progress, medical emergencies requiring an ambulance).

Please note, in almost all cases, the City of Toronto is aware of encampment locations and Streets to Homes outreach staff engage residents as quickly as possible. Unless there is an emergency or change in the state of an encampment, it is not necessary to report an established encampment to the City and our partners.

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