City’s response to homeless encampments still causing harm to homeless, report says


The City of Toronto’s current response to homeless encampments is not only inadequate, but is also causing further harm to homeless people who are most affected, according to a new report.

The report from the MAP Center for Urban Health Solutions looks at the supports available to people living in encampments last year, how some of those services have been helpful, and also ways to improve them.

« The biggest thing people needed and wanted was permanent housing and that’s what they didn’t get, » said Zoe Dodd, a community researcher at the center.

The report, released on Friday, follows the controversial eviction of homeless encampments from three Toronto parks in the summer of 2021. Many homeless people chose to live in these encampments rather than risk contracting COVID. -19 in the shelters of the city. According to the 83-page report, 127 surveys were conducted, along with 23 interviews with current or former residents of encampments in Toronto. The researchers also interviewed 16 outreach workers and volunteers from various agencies and groups.

« I think the most striking thing is that people felt quite abandoned in terms of the help they needed, but then there were neighbors and people who stepped up, » Dodd said.

The report states that the study demonstrates that community outreach supports provided to camp residents during the COVID-19 pandemic have been highly beneficial to their survival and well-being, and that residents have enjoyed the social connections that occur. are developed with local volunteers and workers.

Zoe Dodd is a community researcher at the MAP Center for Urban Health Solutions and one of the authors of the report titled « Evaluation of Encampment Outreach Supports during COVID-19 ». (Submitted by Zoe Dodd)

The report summary goes on to say that housing-specific outreach, typically by City of Toronto’s Streets to Homes, has been less successful in meeting the needs of encampment residents, most of whom have expressed an urgent and continued need for permanent housing options, rather than the traditional shelter and shelter hotel beds that the city offered.

The cleanup of the three large encampments last summer sparked an investigation by the city ombudsman. The city said in July that it had accepted all of the ombudsman’s recommendations in the interim report, including updating the city’s outreach initiative plan and better defining and communicating the role and mandate. from the town camp office.

Dodd says she thinks there were a lot of misconceptions about people living in encampments, including the assumption that people who lived there weren’t housed before the pandemic. She says only 17% of those surveyed had stayed in a camp before March 2020.

« We’ve listed over 40 recommendations that we think the city should listen to, consider and implement. One of our biggest recommendations is for the city to divest itself of law enforcement – where it has spent a lot money – and actually places them in community-led supports and in permanent housing,” she said.

City committed to ‘housing first approach’, city says

In a written statement released Monday, the city says it is aware of the recently released report and welcomes feedback from the community and those with « lived experience. » He says resolving the encampments is a « complex social problem ».

« The city is committed to taking a Housing First approach to street and camp outreach and providing holistic, client-centered case management supports to people living outdoors, » the city says. communicated.

The city goes on to say that outreach staff travel to various sites daily to work with camp occupants on referrals to indoor housing and to connect them with a housing worker.

« This engagement process continues once a person accepts an indoor space to ensure they have ongoing support and access to services, » the city wrote.

Protesters attempting to pull down a fence are pepper sprayed by Toronto police officers enforcing an eviction order at an encampment at Lamport Stadium in July 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

« The city can’t force people to come in and take advantage of the many services the city has to offer, but living in an encampment in a city park is unhealthy and illegal. »

Earlier this year, the city faced widespread criticism when a plan became public to spend $1 million to hire private security companies to patrol parks to deter encampments.

With the cost of rent rising, pressure growing on shelters and the winter season looming, Dodd says the recommendations need to be looked at urgently. She says the reality is that encampments will continue to exist as an alternative shelter option.

“Taking a coercive approach or a surveillance approach to people struggling to survive is not the kind of compassion we want to see.


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