Petition update

Mayor Tory is the architect of every encampment.

Shelter and Housing Justice Network

Jun 5, 2020 — 

Dear Councillor Wong-Tam,

Last week on your direction, a senior member of your office team sent the letter bellow informing a constituent that you had requested from Shelter, Support, Housing and Administration (SSHA) that it expedite the removal of tents from Moss Park. In what is a shocking statement this individual sums up your position on encampments noting; “Unfortunately, it is not possible to clear all encampment locations at once.”

The removal of tents and encampments inflicts great suffering on those living in them and increases their chances of contracting COVID-19 and dying. It is a human rights violation and places the blame for Mayor Tory’s dismal housing policies on those he failed to shelter. During the pandemic the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated this practice should cease as it results in the spreading of the virus.

This individual’s letter is fraught with inaccuracies and misinformation. It notes that “Everyone will be offered a space to come indoors, within the City's range of services (respites, shelters, assessment centres, hotels, and interim housing).” This has not been the case. Often people are only offered spaces after the intervention of frontline staff and advocates.

Many of these indoor spaces the City is offering people present health risks as they do not allow for social distancing, or the hygiene practices as outlined by Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health. Currently there are outbreaks in thirteen of Toronto’s shelters, with a total of 500 confirmed COVID-19 cases and five deaths. Last week one shelter was forced to close. People in Toronto shelters are nearly 18 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than the average Torontonian. Is this where you would want a loved one to stay during the pandemic?

The manner in which these “spaces” are offered is horrific. Police and bulldozers are stationed outside of a tent while City staff “negotiate” with people inside it, “requesting” these individuals sign papers. Frontline staff and advocates are barred from entry. The police presence is traumatic for many of those living in the encampments. A disproportionate number of these individuals are Indigenous peoples and this is another act of colonial oppression.

This senior member of your team notes that “Throughout the moratorium period, there has been an unprecedented proliferation of encampments in parks and public spaces, downtown and in ravines.” As you well know the reason for the increased number of encampments is not the moratorium but rather the shelter and housing crisis we are in. Toronto’s shelters are overflowing. People have nowhere to go. This crisis was created by Mayor Tory’s failure to invest in real housing solutions during his six years in office.

Mayor Tory is the architect of every encampment. In the late fall the Mayor expands the emergency component of the shelter system through the Out of the Cold Shelters and Respite Centres. In the spring these programs are shuttered leaving people exactly where they started with no pathway into housing. Spring is known as “camping season” for those in need of shelter. Mayor Tory’s seasonal approach to homelessness has ensured the number of people without shelter has grown exponentially during his time in office. If your constituents are upset with these people sleeping in the parks they need to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Mayor Tory.

Your call for the immediate removal of tents in Moss Park will dramatically increase the suffering of the racialized individuals, Indigenous peoples and women who constitute almost all of those living in the Park. This action will expedite their displacement to other encampments further from their support services or to indoor spaces that are breeding grounds for COVID-19.

The issue with encampments is not about safety but Mayor Tory’s reputation. (If it was the City would have adopted the findings from the Faulkner Inquest and had its outreach teams providing essential items to enhance peoples safety). The Mayor has hijacked Toronto’s Emergency Operations Centre to clear encampments before the City reopens in the hopes of making the homeless issue and his failure to house people disappear. He will never achieve this goal as the Mayor has forced far too many people to sleep rough. The City does not have sufficient safe indoor spaces and people will move to new encampments. Mayor Tory must open up thousands of hotel rooms to rectify this situation.

It is distressing to learn that you have asked for additional police presence in Moss Park. Moss Park, and Allan Gardens along with other parks and parkettes in the Downtown East are over policed. During the pandemic people experiencing homelessness have been fined $600 for failure to social distance in these public spaces. This is a continuation of a policy of harassment and intimidation by police and the city’s park police (referred to by the City as “park ambassadors”) that started long before the pandemic. The most egregious action, and there have been many, was the removal of four benches in Allan Gardens on April 27, 2019 that was used by the Neechi Healing Circle. Participants of the Circle include residential school survivors and those who endured the 60's scoop, some have physical challenges that require them to sit down.

The people living in tents in Moss Park are your constituents and we ask you to protect them by taking the following actions:

1)    Publicly renounce the clearing of encampments.

2)    Advocate for a moratorium on clearing encampments.

3)    Protect the racialized individuals, Indigenous peoples and women who constitute almost all of those living in the Park. Contact Staff Sergeant Todd Gowan from the Community Response Unit at 51 Division, as well as senior police staff and tell them not to increase their presence in the Park but to scale it back.

4)    Demand the City support those sleeping in encampments with food, water and safety supplies that would be distributed through its outreach teams.

5)    Call for the City to immediately implement the findings form the Faulkner Inquest.

6)    Advocate for the opening of thousands of hotel rooms for those sleeping in encampments and in crowded shelters that do not allow for social spacing, and proper hygiene practices.

Sincerely,

Faith in the City

The Interfaith Coalition to Fight Homelessness 

Ontario Coalition Against Poverty  

Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre

Shelter Housing Justice Network

Street Nurses Network

Toronto Drop-In Network

Toronto Overdose Prevention Society 

**************

LETTER BY SENIOR MEMBER OF COUNCILLOR WONG-TAM’S

TEAM, AFTER CONSULTATION WITH THE COUNCILLOR, MAY 29th, ON THE

REMOVAL OF ENCAMPMENTS IN MOSS PARK

Dear         ,

Thank you for writing to us about the conditions in Moss Park. Councillor Wong-Tam has read your message, and has asked that I respond on her behalf.

The Councillor is in complete agreement about the situation in the park, and the effects on yourself, your neighbours, and on the vulnerable homeless. As a downtown resident herself, Councillor Wong-Tam recognizes the incredible pressure that communities are facing. This is why she continues to advocate for the necessary investments in addiction/mental health services, and supportive housing. The lack of political will to address these issues, over many years, has created an unacceptable situation in our neighbourhoods.

With regard to the plans to address the encampments, the City's Emergency Operations Centre (the body charged with the City's COVID-19 response, under the Mayor's Emergency Declaration) has amended their previous moratorium on encampment clearing. Inter-divisional staff are mobilizing to clear specific encampments on public property that are not safe for people to stay. Councillor Wong-Tam has been speaking with Shelter Support and Housing Administration staff regularly, regarding the encampment situation in Ward 13. These calls have included representation from Toronto Police Services. She has raised the issues and incidents that residents are seeing in Moss Park. This location has been identified to City staff as a priority, and we now expect to it be addressed very shortly.

Locations on the priority list are targeted for enhanced outreach efforts, to get outside sleepers into shelter or housing. This strategy allows many tents to be cleared at once, as part of a coordinated inter-divisional operation, once a number of people have accepted shelter. Priority locations are identified as those that pose a safety concern for the encamped people, and the surrounding community. Everyone will be offered a space to come indoors, within the City's range of services (respites, shelters, assessment centres, hotels, and interim housing). Frontline workers from the City's Streets to Homes Unit have been and continue to visit the site and engage with the encamped persons. ​Throughout the pandemic, frontline workers have been visiting encampments to offer indoor space, connect people to services, hand out hygiene kits, and provide education about COVID-19.

It takes a significant amount of resources and inter-divisional staff to mobilize the enhanced protocol. Throughout the moratorium period, there has been an unprecedented proliferation of encampments in parks and public spaces, downtown and in ravines. Unfortunately, it is not possible to clear all encampment locations at once. The Councillor is pushing for accelerated action, at Moss Park, however, to alleviate the issues as soon as possible. In the meantime, Parks staff are doing their best to clean up. A large clean-up of litter and debris was completed last Thursday, May 21st. I have sent a specific request to staff to ask for more and intensified cleaning, as it is clear that the debris quickly builds up again.

Councillor Wong-Tam is in agreement that the City cannot allow encampments and not provide adequate supports. The situation is unacceptable. We appreciate your letting us know about the broken hand-washing station. This has been reported for immediate action. We had also, previously, been assured that the portable washrooms installed are cleaned 3 x per day. We will be looking into this matter further, to understand whether this stated level of cleaning is being maintained. The Councillor has also consistently asked that public washroom locations be scaled up, prior to and since the pandemic. This has only become more important, as the number of encampments has increased.

We will continue to keep the community updated on the strategy to address encampments, via our email updates, which go out 3 x per week. To address your specific concerns, regarding police presence in the park, I have copied in Staff Sergeant Todd Gowan, who manages the Community Response Unit in 51 Division. We've been informed that police staff have been affected by the pandemic, resulting in the prioritization of emergency reports. My understanding, however, is that they have frequently attended the park, in the last few weeks, and are responsive to resident complaints. Staff Sergeant Gowan can speak further as to their efforts, at this location.

Thank you again for being in touch. If I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Warm regards,

 


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