FACT: There were 132 encampment fires in 2020, almost half as many as the City claims, and the 132 figure includes fires where there was no property damage and there were no injuries.1 It is also likely that the 132 figure includes fire incidents that were unrelated to encampments, and is further inflated.2
The reason for this discrepancy in the number of encampment fires is that the City of Toronto has been calling “fire response events” not “fires.” Fire response events include all emergency responses to notifications of a suspected uncontrolled fire. Even if it turns out that a suspected uncontrolled fire in an encampment is simply a false alarm, a controlled campfire, BBQ smoke, steam from a pot on a cooking stove, or even someone setting off fireworks, these “fire response events” are counted as “fires” in the City’s accounting of encampment fires, significantly inflating the number of actual fires.3 If the City were to cite “fire incidents” instead, which are defined as emergency responses to notifications of a suspected uncontrolled fire that required fire suppression, the number of encampment fires would be significantly smaller.4 For 2020, citing the number of “fire response events” in encampments instead of “fire incidents” results an almost doubling of the number of encampment fires (253 instead of 132).
FACT: City of Toronto data about encampment fires do not take into account the significant increase in the number and size of encampments across the city since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, or the increase in park use overall.
Given that the number and size of encampments across the city has increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic,5 and that the level of recreational park use has increased dramatically as well,6 it only makes sense that the number of notifications of suspected uncontrolled fires would also increase. Not only are there more people living in encampments who engage in activities that can involve fire (cooking, Indigenous sacred fires), but there are more recreational park users in parks who engage in activities that can involve fire and to observe the activities of those living in encampments and to notify the fire department of suspected uncontrolled fires. This context is critical when looking at encampment fire data to assess the relative safety of encampments.
Source: Document obtained from the City of Toronto through MPPFOI Act request # 2021-00427. The document lists the number of “fire events” that the fire department responded to between January 2015 and February, 2021 which required fire suppression and which were classified as “fire,” “explosion” and “no loss outdoor fire” as per Ontario’s “Standard Incident Report Codes List.” A “no loss outdoor fire” is a fire that does not result in property damage or injury; no loss outdoor fires do not include “arson, vandalism, children playing, recycling or dump fires.” “No loss outdoor fires” and “fires” are not distinguished in the available data. Additional FOI requests are required to ascertain the actual number of out-of-control (outdoor) fires and explosions. Office of the Fire Marshall (2009). “Standard Incident Report Codes List.”
While some “fire incidents” may be obviously “encampment fires” (such as when a tent or shelter is on fire) other “fire incidents” (such as a campfire) may simply be those that occur in parks that happen to have encampments in them. It is unclear how the distinction between a fire incident in a park and a fire incident in an encampment in a park is made. City staff have equated any activity that takes place in a park with activity that takes place in an encampment when these are not the same. See, for example, the testimony of Troy Ford, the City’s witness who spoke to fire safety, in which he interchanges parks with encampments, confuses the general area around encampments with encampments/encamped people, and blames encampment residents for events that occur in the park that there is no evidence an encampment resident was involved in. Ford, Troy. Affidavit in City of Toronto Motion Record, Black et al. v. City of Toronto, 2020 ONSC 6398. It seems likely then, that some fire incidents that occur in parks that are unrelated to encampments may be classified as “encampment fires” if there are encampments nearby.
A freedom of information request made to the City of Toronto asked, “How many fires were there in homeless encampments, as expressed by month and year, between 2015 and the present date?” The City of Toronto responded to this request for information by providing the table, “Fire events that occurred in homeless encampment.” This table indicates that there were 253 “fire events” in homeless encampments in 2020. As the table lists the number of “fire events,” not actual fires, a follow-up was made to the City that reiterated that the request was for information about “fires” not “fire events.” This time, the City responded with a different table that listed only “fire incidents” from 2015-February, 2021. This table indicates that there were 132 “fire incidents” in homeless encampments in 2020. In an email accompanying the “fire incidents” table, the City clarified that the City understands “fire” to mean a “fire response event,” which it defines as “an emergency response to notification (alarm or call from the public) of a suspected uncontrolled fire. These events are recorded with the OFM codes associated with Fire, Pre-Fire Conditions, Controlled Burning or False Alarm.” The OFM code for “Pre-Fire Conditions” pertains to situations where no fire is present, such as an engine overheating, lightning, fireworks, a pot on a stove, and steam from cooking (see: Office of the Fire Marshall (2009).“Standard Incident Report Codes List”.) Documents obtained from the City of Toronto through MPPFOI Act request # 2021-00427, including email correspondence.
FACT: Parks Ambassadors displace unhoused people, making parks inequitable and unsafe for some unhoused people.
Parks Ambassador training focuses primarily on managing homeless people.1 This training includes learning protocols for dismantling every encampment Ambassadors encounter (see images 1&2 below).2 In 2019, Parks Ambassadors dismantled at least 725 encampments (see image #3 below).3 The fact that homeless people in Toronto are disproportionately Black, Indigenous, people of colour, migrants, trans and disabled people4 has serious implications when it comes to ensuring both the equitable access to public spaceand the health and safety of people who are subject to multiple intersecting forms of marginalization and discrimination.
Images 1 & 2: Slides from Parks Ambassador Program training materials
Image #3: Slide from Parks Ambassador Program training materials
FACT: Parks Ambassadors facilitate the seizure, disposal5 and destruction6 of unhoused people’s property, which not only contravenes City policy,7 but endangers people’s health, safety, and their lives.
The City admits that multiple people have had all of their possessions destroyed after being told that they could keep their belongings in the park while they settle into a shelter-hotel.8 Unhoused people’s property includes survival supplies like tents, sleeping bags, clothing, safety equipment, food, and heat sources, which are necessary for the health and safety, and possibly even survival, of people living outside. City staff claim that current City policy is that they will store and catalogue people’s belongings so that they can be retrieved at a later date;9 but for those things that are not destroyed or disposed of, the “cataloging process” does not involve any indication of who owns the property and images of the “stored belongings” appear to be piles of property cleared from encampments that have been dumped in an outdoor City parking lot(see Image 4 below).10
Image 4: Encampment Resident Property “Storage”
FACT: Parks Ambassadors are parapolice who both criminalize and enforce the criminalization of unhoused people, which makes parks unsafe and less accessible for unhoused people, and therefore inequitable.
Parapolice are police-adjacent forces like by-law officers and security guards that are tasked with managing homeless people in parks and enforcing laws which criminalize the activities that are necessary for unhoused people’s basic survival.11 Parks Ambassadors often wear uniforms that closely resemble police uniforms and work closely with police officers;12 this can make their actual authority unclear to the public, including those they are policing.7 Parks Ambassadors’ training makes it evident that their jobs involve a disproportionate focus on policing the activities of homeless people (as compared with other park users), which makes parks less equitable. The enforcement of laws that criminalize activities that are necessary for unhoused people’s basic survival makes parks unsafe for unhoused people and less accessible to them. Unhoused people are disproportionately members of marginalized groups,8 which makes their criminalization by parks ambassadors especially inequitable.
The contents listed in The Parks Ambassador Program “Executive Summary” are: Background; Expectations; Homelessness & People living in Poverty Policy; Response to Homelessness Decision Tree; Notice of Advice [encampment eviction notice]; Trespass to Property Act Letter- Suspension & Ban Policy; Park Safety Audits; Harm reduction and Open Needles in Parks; Homeless Trends. The majority of these items are directly or indirectly related to homelessness. Further, all of the training slides are bordered with photos, and on every page is at least one photo of an encampment. (This document was acquired through a freedom of information request asking for: “Any and all training manuals and/or communications regarding training for Park Ambassadors in the correspondence” of Troy Ford, the head Parks Ambassador.) Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation. (2019). The Parks Ambassador Program. Obtained through MFOIPPA request #2020-01772, p. 1.
When Parks Ambassadors encounter an encampment, they coordinate with Streets to Homes to “resolve the situation.” If an encampment resident accepts an indoor placement offered by Streets to Homes, they are deemed compliant and Parks Ambassadors “coordinate encampment clearing, in a timely fashion.” If that person does not accept the offer, they are deemed not compliant and Parks Ambassadors are to organize the dismantling of the encampment, which can include giving written notice and requesting the assistance of the police. (See images #1 & #2 above.) Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation. (2019). “The Parks Ambassador Program.” Obtained through MFOIPPA request #2020-01772, p. 12. The information on these images can also be found in the Parks and Recreation DivisionHomelessness and People Living in Poverty Policy. People staying in encampments are supposed to be given 72 hours notice under the law before an eviction, except under very limited circumstances. Both Troy Ford and Scott McKean, who are City of Toronto staff, testified that there are multiple instances that this has not occurred, including, according to McKean, “where the City is moving to clear the park after significant outreach” (p. 42). Cross-examination of Scott McKean. Black et al. v. City of Toronto, 2020 ONSC 6398. Court file CV-20-644217.
The training slides are dated 2019. It is possible the data for 2019 encampments is incomplete. This graph, taken from the training slides, does not specifically say this is the number of encampments dismantled. However it is evident from the protocols illustrated in Image #1 & #2 that all Parks Ambassadors’ encounters with encampments result in their destruction. Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation. (2019). “The Parks Ambassador Program.” Obtained through MFOIPPA request #2020-01772, p. 12
People have been told by Parks Ambassadors that they can keep some things in the park for a period of time because shelter-hotels only allow people to bring 2 bags into the shelter-hotel with them, only to find out later that their belongings were disposed of. Encampment Support Network (March 19, 2021). Two bag limit – people’s worldly goods. Further, Parks Ambassadors have disposed of “bedding material to discourage overnight sleepers” MFOIPPA Request to City of Toronto 2019-00013, p. 36.
Parks Ambassador Troy Ford gave sworn testimony that he has cut open people’s tents in Cross-examination of Troy Ford. Black et al. v. City of Toronto, 2020 ONSC 6398. Court file CV-20-644217. See a Twitter thread by outreach worker Lorraine Lam in which she recounts the experiences of Jesse Iker, now diseased, who reported that Ford slashed his tent open while he was in it. Lam, Lorraine (@lorrainelamchop). (November 21, 2020). Twitter thread. 10:25 am; also see Lavoie, J. (2020, December 8). Ten more lives lost remembered at monthly Toronto Homeless Memorial. Toronto.com.Troy Ford denied he did this in the same cross-examination.
The City’s “new practice” is to allow people to keep their property in parks. This is explained by Dan Breault, a Program Manager with the City, in Encampment Support Network (March 19, 2021).Two bag limit – people’s worldly goods. Prior to this, according to Breault, “just everything was absolutely discarded.” Prior to this policy being implemented,it was City policy to give unhoused people advance notice before disposing of their property. Parks and Recreation Division. (2002). Homelessness and People Living in Poverty Policy.
Dan Breault, City Program Manager, said that, given this is a “new practice… there will be mistakes and room for refinement and we’re continuing to try to make those refinements as we go. Understanding that… in this particular case and in other cases… somebody is suffering and… for that… we’re sorry” in Encampment Support Network (March 19, 2021). Two bag limit – people’s worldly goods.
As quoted in Encampment Solidarity Network (@ESN_TO). (March 2, 2021). Twitter post .
Encampment Solidarity Network (@ESN_TO). (March 2, 2021). Twitter post .
The “criminalization of homelessness” involves the creation and enforcement (by police and parapolice) of rules that specifically regulate homeless people in public spaces. The effect of criminalization of homelessness is that “people who occupy public spaces (because they lack private ones), and whose poverty is highly visible, are subject to extra attention by the criminal justice system not so much for what they do, but for who they are and where they are.” O’Grady, Bill, Stephen Gaetz, and Kristy Buccieri. Can I see your ID? The policing of youth homelessness in Toronto. Toronto: Justice for Children and Youth & Homeless Hub, 2011, p. 7. Laws which criminalize homelessness include those which make activities that are necessary for unhoused people’s basic survival illegal. These laws include prohibitions on sheltering oneself, lying down in public places, and sleeping in parks. The enforcement of such laws causes both physical and psychological harm and has been found to violate the right to life, liberty and security of the person enshrined in section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Pivot Legal Society. (2016). Homeless Rights in Canada. Submission of the Pivot Legal Society to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for the Sixth Periodic Report of Canada for the CESCR’s 57th Session; also see Withers, A. J. (2020). Mapping ruling relations through homelessness organizing. York University.
Fact: A key component of the City’s Pathway Inside program is the criminalization of unhoused people. Criminalization,1 increases in policing, and the threat of incarceration endangers the health and safety of encampment residents rather than promoting health and safety.
On March 19th, 2021, three days after the City’s announcement of the Pathway Inside program, at least seven corporate security guards and by-law enforcement officers employed by the City of Toronto issued trespass notices in Trinity Bellwoods Park informing encampment residents that they will be in violation of the Trespass to Property Act if they do not clear the park by 8:30 am April 6th. The notices were posted on tents and poles.2 Similar notices were posted in other parks in the city.3 These notices were served “to guide peoples’ decision making” in relation to the Pathway Inside program.4 Enforcement of the Trespass to Property Act compels an increase in police presence, which further criminalizes homelessness, undermines the health and safety of encampment residents,5 and further increases encampment residents’ risk of of being subject to large fines, incarceration and deportation.6
FACT: Two weeks after the City announced the Pathway Inside program, promising “safe” and “comfortable” shelter-hotel spaces, the hotel being used for the program experienced a COVID-19 outbreak. As a result of the outbreak, the shelter-hotel stopped accepting new residents and the City notified the public (but not encampment residents) that “no enforcement action to vacate parks will occur on April 6.”7 People who had already moved from encampments to the shelter-hotel weren’t notified of the outbreak until 3 days later.8
Factcheck Toronto. (March 21, 2021). “Claim: Pathway Inside, a new City program…”. Previous evictions have used “Notices of Advice,” as prescribed under the municipal by-laws. The notice provided to encampment residents is a notice under the Trespass to Property Act, a provincial regulatory offense. E.g. Moss Park Notice of Advice in July 2020. Dodd, Zoe (July 15, 2020). Twitter post.
Unlike violations of the Parks by-laws, which are only ticketable offences, alleged violators of the Trespass to Property Act can be arrested, ticketed or provided with a summons to attend court by police. Issuing these notices can compel an increased police presence, which increases the risk of identity, record and even immigration checks; and can result in the laying of regulatory offences that can lead to incarceration in some circumstances. Trespass to Property Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. T.21. and Provincial Offences Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. P.33. Being homeless already increases the likelihood of being incarcerated and the length of imprisonment. John Howard Society of Toronto. (2010). Homeless and Jailed: Jailed and Homeless. Incarceration in Ontario, even for a short time, lowers length of life by 15 years for some age and gender groups. One study examined all adults admitted into provincial correctional facilities for 1 year. Consequently, it included individuals who were incarcerated for as short as a night. Provincial correctional facilities hold people in pre-trial custody and for sentences of not-longer than 2 years. Kouyoumdjian, F. G., Andreev, E. M., Borschmann, R., Kinner, S. A., & McConnon, A. (2017). Do people who experience incarceration age more quickly? Exploratory analyses using retrospective cohort data on mortality from Ontario, Canada. PLOS ONE, 12(4). Significant consequences for encampment residents for violating the Trespass to Property Act can lead to penalties such as: a fine of up to $10,000 for violating the Act (Trespass to Property Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. T.21 s. 2 (1); a fine of $2,000 and up to 30 days in jail or probation for failing to attend court if the encampment resident is provided a summons and they or their designate can’t/don’t attend the court date (Provincial Offences Act,R.S.O. 1990, c. P.33 s. 24 (1); s. 72 (1)); or a $1,000 fine, imprisonment for 30 days or both if the encampment resident is found to be violating their parole (Provincial Offences Act,R.S.O. 1990, c. P.33 s. 24 (1); s. 75).
Fact: Pathway Inside is designed to clear specific City parks of unhoused people.
The City is using the Trespass to Property Act to clear multiple encampments. The City posted notices in March, 2021 informing people that they must stop living in the park and remove all their belongings from the park by 8:00 am, April 6, 2021 (photo below).
The City claims that Pathway Inside will clear four priority parks; however, Allan Gardens has also been served with a trespass notice (photo below).
Fact: Pathway Inside involves the City turning people away who are seeking a bed in the shelter system, claiming that there is no space available, while hundreds of shelter hotel spaces sit empty.
For the Pathway Inside project, a shelter hotel has been securedand rooms in the hotel are being reserved for residents from four “priority” encampments.1 The residents in these encampments are currently sheltered in make-shift shelters, but the City is demanding that these shelters be dismantled and the residents move into the shelter-hotel by April 6, 2021, or they will face legal repercussions. In the meantime, these rooms sit empty. Meanwhile, on March 18, 2021, the City was telling people with no access to shelter or a warm space of any kind that there was no room for them in the shelter system:2 a front-line worker had to pay out of their own pocket for a space in a private hostel for a person seeking shelter3 while a hotel full of empty rooms, paid for by public money, sat empty. Additionally, outreach workers have been trying to refer people to these empty rooms and all have been rejected.4
FACT:The City has initiated a legal proceeding against Khaleel Seivwright 1 – initiating a legal proceeding is the definition of “suing.” 2
In an attempt to stop Toronto Tiny Shelters from being distributed to people who are without shelter, the City of Toronto has filed in court to try to get an injunction to “permanently restrain” Khaleel Seivwright from “placing and/or relocating structures on City-owned land or otherwise creating a nuisance or interfering with the City’s rights as owner and occupier of its land.”1 The result of the City winning this lawsuit would be that people living outside will no longer have access to the relative warmth, privacy and security the shelters provided and will instead have to sleep in tents or other shelters that do not have insulation and cannot be locked.3
FACT: Between March 13 and July 30, 2020, there were 55 encampment fires.1
The City misrepresents and overstates the number of “fires” in encampments by citing data for the number of calls Toronto Fire responded to regarding fires in encampments rather than citing the number of uncontrolled fires Toronto Fire found upon arrival, which makes encampments appear to be far more dangerous than they are. When counting calls rather than uncontrolled fires, the number of encampment fires in 2019 appears ten times greater than the actual number of uncontrolled fires.2
FACT: While at least seven homeless people died in November 2020, none of them died from fire.3
The risk of death by fire for a homeless person is so low that the City of Toronto does not list it as a discrete category for cause of death in its data tracking homeless deaths.The City did, however, add COVID-19 as a distinct category in 2020, accounting for 7% of deaths from January 1 to June 30 2020.4
Mathematically extrapolating from the City’s data in the above claim, Toronto Fire responded to 99 calls about encampment fires in 2019. City of Toronto court filings reports there were only 10 actual encampment fires in 2019.
According to City of Toronto data, nearly ⅓ of all deaths are from drug toxicity (31%) and 26% of deaths are listed as unknown/pending. Many unknown/pending deaths will likely end up listed as drug toxicity, but it is unlikely an unknown/pending cause would be listed as fire, as fire as cause of death would be more obvious.
FACT: The claim, during the COVID-19 pandemic, that the safest place for anyone experiencing homelessness is inside is dubious.
More than 660 cases of COVID-19 have been reported inside the shelter system during the pandemic,1 while less than five cases have been identified in encampments through widespread testing.2
Research has demonstrated that COVID-19 risk is highest in indoor congregate settings where droplet and airborne transmission becomes a significant threat; the level of risk is increased with the more time a person spends in such a setting, the more people it contains, and the lower the quality of its ventilation.3
Places that used to be considered safe for people like restaurants, churches, hospitals, and long-term care homes, are now sites with the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission.4Yet, the City hasn’t updated its view of risks associated with the shelter system. As many as 2,874 spaces in the shelter system are currently congregate settings, many with shared bathrooms and eating areas.5
FACT: The City of Toronto has withheld basic services from people living in encampments; these services would increase people’s safety.
Scott McKean, Manager of Community Safety and Wellbeing Planning, Social Development Finance and Administration with the City of Toronto, gave sworn testimony that:
City staff have identified opportunities to have dedicated staffing and infrastructure within encampment sites, including suggestions by community partners. At this time, the City has prioritized creating access to safer spaces inside… rather than building infrastructure into encampments. Building infrastructure in encampments would require spending scarce resources in parks and risk encouraging larger encampments.6
FACT: It was only in October 2020, seven months into the pandemic, that the City of Toronto lifted a prohibition on the distribution of survival supplies for all agencies receiving City funding. It took over two years from the issuance of the Coroner’s Jury Recommendations in the Inquest into the death of Grant Faulkner for this ban to be lifted.7 This prohibition was instituted when Streets to Homes was put in place in 2005.8
FACT: The City provides no data or analysis of the dangers associated with various housing or shelter options, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and overdose crisis.
People face many threats to their safety including contracting COVID-19, exposure to the elements including freezing to death), physical violence/assault, contracting other diseases, theft, sexual assault, overdosing, fire, and trauma.9 The level of risk related to each of these threats can increase or decrease depending on the specific shelter/housing situation. Often people become homeless because their housing situation has become unsafe.10 In some cases, it is the City itself that is responsible for the threat and has the capacity to lessen it.11 The Premier of Ontario recognizes that some people report not wanting to stay in shelters because “some people get beat-up, their stuff gets stolen.”12 The City needs to update its outdated understanding of safety in accordance with current data about the actual safety risks that people experiencing homelessness are facing and apply it to reducing those risks and making shelter and housing options safer.
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.3An 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.
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.
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