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: 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.