Residents of Moss Park encampment fight against moving to shelters

Published On July 21, 2020 | By Alison Gallagher | COVID-19, News
While more shelters and temporary housing have been opening to house Toronto’s homeless population, many people have opted to live in outdoor encampments, like this one in George Hislop Park near Yonge and Bloor Streets, to avoid contracting COVID-19. (Flickr/Greg’s Southern Ontario)
Alison Gallagher

Residents at the Moss Park encampment in downtown Toronto, along with homeless advocacy groups, are suing the city after a reported eviction notice ordering them to leave.

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) said people were issued an eviction notice by the City of Toronto to leave by July 21 or each person would be levied with a $10,000 fine.

But OCAP along with the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society (TOPS) and 14 encampment residents responded with a lawsuit against the city.

OCAP’s press release said the goal of the lawsuit is “to prevent the eviction of all encampments without the provision of adequate and acceptable accommodation.”

As of July 21, the reported eviction order from the city regarding homeless residents in Moss Park is currently postponed until further notice.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city has opened up space in hotels, interim housing and existing shelters to safely house the homeless population, with more than 550 people from 43 encampments moved into these spaces.

More than 121 of those have come from the Moss Park encampment, according to the City of Toronto.

However, with more than 600 confirmed COVID-19 cases across multiple shelters in the city, many people are choosing to stay in encampment areas to avoid the risk of contracting the virus.

Additionally, OCAP believes what the city is offering is not good enough, as many shelter spaces are far from where these people’s supports are, which could worsen their situations.

Tim Richter, the president and CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, said some people’s concern over contracting the virus in shelters is justified.

“No matter how good the City of Toronto is at providing protections, there’s no protection from COVID-19 better than a home,” Richter said in a phone interview with Humber News.

“So it’s understandable that people experiencing homelessness that was in the shelter system are now moving outside just to protect themselves,” he said.

While Toronto’s plans to house the homeless population are not perfect, Richter said he gives them credit for trying to manage Canada’s largest homeless system.

“This is not a small undertaking,” Richter said. “In my view, Toronto is doing its best under extraordinarily challenging circumstances.”

He predicts there will be even more pressure on the homeless systems across the country as the pandemic continues, but the solution should not fall just on the shoulders of city governments.

“Modern mass homelessness in Canada was created by federal policy, so what is really essential is that there is federal leadership in place to create housing and benefits as quickly as possible,” Richter said.

“Toronto can’t do it alone,” he said.

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