I want to thank everyone who has reached out to my office speaking up for those who are unhoused and living outside in encampments through this pandemic, and most recently in response to the injunction application last Friday. I share your outrage that a year into the pandemic we still have people sleeping outdoors.
It is the responsibility of governments to take care of everyone in our city, province, and country and to ensure that our basic needs are being met. Unfortunately, the housing crisis has long existed in Toronto, and right now we are seeing the result of decades of underfunding and neglect. My heart breaks for those who feel like they have nowhere else to go. I personally know what experiencing homelessness feels like and I do not wish that on anyone.
It is especially disheartening hearing of an injunction against a volunteer whose only desire was to try and help where governments have failed. I learned about the actions of the City filing an injunction application at the same time it became public. As far as I know, under the pandemic emergency, Councillors are not provided with any notice of enforcement actions. Since I heard, I have been trying to learn more. In response to my questions, City staff have confirmed that:
- Mr. Khaleel Seivwright is not being fined for this work, and he is also not being sued.
- The application for an injunction is to stop the placement of new “tiny” shelters in parks and other public spaces, but it doesn't stop him from building shelters or installing them on private property.
- This application also doesn't ask him to remove the existing shelters.
I have urged City staff and City Legal Services to consider mediation as I believe that a third-party facilitated meeting would be more constructive than resolving conflict through the last resort channels - the courts. By working together, we can achieve much more and more quickly.
City Staff explain that they have taken this extraordinary action because of the immediate and urgent risk of life that the wooden structures pose to those living in encampments, but also to first responders and the broader community.
In 2020, Toronto Fire Services responded to 253 fires in encampments – an alarming 250% increase over the same period in 2019. So far this year, there have been over 25 fires in encampments, even one leading to the tragic death of a resident at Orphan’s Green Park in Corktown last week.
While I have encouraged City staff to work with individuals and volunteers, I do not have the authority to intervene on enforcement measures being taken by the City Solicitor. The Acting Fire Chief and others with legislated and legal obligations for ensuring public health and safety have deemed that wooden structures pose a significant fire risk that could lead to death. In all other circumstances, I trust their expertise and professional judgement. In this matter, I will continue to trust that they are performing their duties based on their ongoing legislated and legal obligations.
My focus, and all my energy, remains on how to fast-track permanent, affordable, and supportive housing solutions. Right now, the safest option for people experiencing homelessness is safe and secure indoor housing options, with mental and physical health supports, their own space, and space for physical distancing. Since the beginning of the pandemic, my office and I have worked hard with the City staff to:
- Move over 1300 people from encampments inside into temporary hotels and shelters
- Get 3000 people permanently housed
- Fast-track the opening of 220 affordable, supportive homes specifically geared to people experiencing homelessness
- Open an additional 1248 new affordable housing opportunities in 2021
I have also fought hard to improve winter access to shower facilities and washrooms in parks - and I am proud that because of this we have seen more portable toilets and washrooms open in parks across the City, especially those where we have encampments and facilities in the same space. I continue to work with my Council colleagues and City staff to ensure we are working to meet the recommendations of the Faulkner report through the distribution of blankets, sleeping bags, and other harm reduction supports for those who are living outside. I continue to advocate for this expansion and have never stopped.
It is critically important that we create opportunities to bring everyone indoors this winter, City Council has committed to this, but we cannot do this work alone. We need the Federal and Provincial governments to step up with funding for more affordable, supportive, and transitional housing in municipalities across the country. Without that, this housing crisis will exact a human, social and economic toll that is as unnecessary as it is tragic.
Please take action to demand more financial aid to scale up rapid and modular supportive housing in the coming months. To learn more about what I’ve done and what more needs to be done and how you can support this work, please visit kristynwongtam.ca/homelessness.