FACT: The City’s estimate of roughly 400 people living in encampments in Toronto is a severe undercount.
The City’s estimate1 of the number of people in encampments is limited to Streets to Homes workers counting the number of encampments and the number of tents in those encampments.2 Based upon the similarity between the City’s tent numbers and encampment resident numbers, it seems that the City is assuming that there is roughly one person living in each tent. This methodology is flawed. The City’s map indicating the number of encampments and tents in different parts of the City is drastically lower than numbers provided by local homeless-serving agencies that provide regular outreach services to homeless people in their communities, which puts the number at closer to 800 people in encampments.3 An analysis of encampments that have been cleared by the City demonstrates that each tent has sheltered roughly 2 people, not one as the City has assumed.
FACT: Not every unhoused person living outside is staying in an encampment. City figures don’t include people who have been sheltering in places like in TTC vehicles,4 in TTC shelters, in stairwells, on sidewalks, on subway grates, or in abandoned properties. The number of unhoused people living outside in Toronto is likely over 1,000 people.
City Claim: City of Toronto Press Release, December 3, 2020
- The City has provided inconsistent numbers regarding the number encampment population. “Around 400” was asserted by Mayor John Tory at the December 7, 2020 COVID-19 Briefing and by SSHA General Manager at the October 28 Toronto City Council meeting. Four days after the press release that said there were 395 tents (including other shelters) in encampments, Gord Tanner, Director of Homelessness Initiatives and Prevention for the City said there were “423 tents in encampments in Toronto” at the Economic and Community Development meeting.
- Bedard, M. (October 28, 2020). Toronto City Council meeting.
- Doug Johnson Hatlem provides his detailed methodology here.
- See: Yuen, J. (Dec 11, 2020). Uptick in homeless sheltering on TTC vehicles during pandemic. Toronto Sun.
FACT: Only 956 of the 1,100 people from encampments that the City says it helped move inside (to a space in the shelter system) since the pandemic began did actually move inside.1
FACT: Of the 1,100 people the City claims to have moved inside, less than half of them–only 509–are currently inside. 447 of the 956 people (or 47%) of the people the City actually did move inside from encampments are no longer in the shelter system.2
74% of the people who were moved inside from encampments have left to an “unknown discharge location.” That is to say, a third of the people the City moved into the shelter system from encampments are no longer in the shelter system and the City doesn’t know where they ended up.3
City Claim: City of Toronto Press Release, December 3, 2020.
- Shelter Support and Housing Administration. (December 7, 2020). Update on COVID-19 response for Homelessness Services.
- Ibid. Many of these people are back in encampments and the City may have a record of them there.
Image: Shelter, Support and Housing Administration. (December 7, 2020) Update on COVID-19 response for Homelessness Service. p. 12.
FACT: While the City claims that it provides medical supports (like mental health and addiction counseling) at City-funded facilities, supports aren’t interchangeable.
A health provider at a remote City-funded site is not an adequate replacement for a health provider with whom a person has a long-standing relationship; familiarity with the person’s case history and a trusting relationship, developed over time, makes a long-standing health provider uniquely important to a person’s health. For this reason, many encampment residents do not want to or are unable to move far away from the supports and services they rely on, which can include safe consumption sites, pharmacists, methadone clinics, friends, networks, and other places and services in the neighbourhood that are a part of their daily routine. Some people have been moved over an hour away by transit from their communities.1
FACT: City-funded facilities subject residents to a large number of rules that can be difficult for people to follow, criminalizes behaviour, and can lead to involuntary discharge.2 A third of all people moved into the shelter system (30%) from encampments have left to an “unknown discharge location,”3 demonstrating that the conditions and services City-run sites provide are inadequate for many.
FACT: Overdose prevention and harm reduction services in shelter-hotels have been inadequate.4 In 2020, 29 people died from overdose in the shelter system between January and November (compared to 13 people in all of 2019).5
FACT: Not all residents in shelter-hotels require the high levels of support that is often mandatory in shelter-hotels.6
For example, some front-line workers and former shelter-hotel residents have described the many (sometimes 5 or more) mandatory daily “wellness checks” that some residents have experienced as invasive and a serious violation of privacy.7 Inner City Health Associates recommends doing two “wellness checks” a day by phone.8 Reducing some kinds of supports for people who do not need or want them would help the City better provide support to the people who do need them.
City Claim: City of Toronto Press Release, December 3, 2020
- Dodd, Z. Affidavit. Black et al. v. City of Toronto, 2020 ONSC 6398. Para 15. According to the the Encampment Support Network, Lamport Stadium residents, for example, were moved to shelter-hotels at Kennedy Rd. and the 401, 30 km and about 1 hour and 20 minutes away by transit. Encampment Support Network. (July 27, 2020). Relocation and Return. ESN Donor Newsletter. Also see Dodd, Z., (November 8, 2020). Encampment Support Network Press Conference.
- Chili. (November 8, 2020). Encampment Support Network Press Conference; Lam, L. (November 8, 2020). Encampment Support Network Press Conference; Pabani, A., & Rotsztain, D. (2020). Dismantling Stubborn Structures.
- Shelter Support and Housing Administration. (December 7, 2016). Update on COVID-19 response for Homelessness Services.
- See Altenberg, J., & Robertson, A. (November 27, 2020). Get opioid overdose prevention and harm reduction into Toronto shelters — now. The Star; Dodd, Z., (November 8, 2020). Encampment Support Network Press Conference; Rondinelli, N. (2020, October 21). Deaths in Toronto Shelters at All Time High: CEO of Heart to Heart CPR Says That Shelter Staff is Taking the Wrong Course – A Claim Recently Supported by Newest Canadian 2020 Resuscitation Guidelines Released October 19, 2020. Global Newswire.
- City of Toronto. (2020, December 15). Integrated Prevention and Harm Reduction (iPHARE) initiative, also see Boisvert, N. (2020, November 22). Preventing fatal opioid overdoses a looming challenge as Toronto shelters prepare for winter.
- Not all “supports” are mandatory, many are voluntary. However, “wellness checks” are mandatory
- Carbone, G. (2018, February 20). CD26.5 Update on Shelter Services. Community Development and Recreation Committee, Toronto City Council, p.44
- Svoboda, T., Baral, S., Perlas, P., Bond, A., Orkin, A., Jardine, L., & Tanner, G. (2020). Isolation Site for People Experiencing Homelessness: High Level Policies and Procedures Overview.