Toronto City Council votes to continue efforts to protect people experiencing homelessness and ensure City parks are safe for everyone

Today, Toronto City Council voted to support the City Manager’s staff report entitled, “COVID-19 Response Update: Protecting People Experiencing Homelessness and Ensuring the Safety of the Shelter System.” The report outlines the unprecedented action the City of Toronto has taken and proposes six recommendations to help the City, with its community partners, continue its dedication to reducing the risks of COVID-19 in the shelter system, direct staff to continue working with those living in encampments to offer safe indoor space, and work with the federal and provincial governments to secure investments in a range of affordable and supportive housing solutions.

Council approved the following recommendations from the City Manager:

1.      City Council direct staff to continue to take appropriate steps to reduce risks of COVID-19 in the shelter system.

2.      City Council direct staff to continue to take all steps necessary to achieve a high rate of vaccination for people experiencing homelessness.

3.      City Council request the provincial government to continue to prioritize vaccine supply for shelter clients and frontline staff, including expediting second doses for these vulnerable groups.

4.      City Council direct staff to continue working with those living in encampments to offer safe indoor space.

5.      City Council reiterate its request to the federal and provincial government to urgently provide one-time capital and ongoing operating funding to fully implement the 24- month Housing and Homelessness Recovery Plan by the end of 2022, including funding for the remaining 2,460 permanent housing opportunities, comprised of 1,460 supportive housing units and funding for 1,000 portable housing benefits.

6.      City Council direct the City Manager to work with Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) municipalities and community partners and institutions to request the Province establish a coordinated approach to create supportive housing based on a social medicine model which integrates affordable housing with health care and a range social services to help people successfully exit homelessness, acknowledging that affordable housing with wraparound supports play a critical role in reducing chronic homelessness and addressing systemic issues faced by vulnerable and marginalized groups.

The full report is available online: https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2021/cc/bgrd/backgroundfile-167471.pdf.

Council also approved several amendments including:
•       That City Council adopt a goal of zero encampments.
•       That City Council adopt a goal of ending chronic homelessness.
•       That City Council direct the City Manager to review the emergency shelter and COVID-response hotel program to ensure it is as hospitable as possible for homeless residents, minimizes denial of service and creates a sense of community while maintaining Infection Prevention and Control protocols to protect against COVID outbreaks.

Read all amendments in Council item COVID-19 Response Update: Protecting People Experiencing Homelessness and Ensuring the Safety of the Shelter System: http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewAgendaItemHistory.do?item=2021.CC34.1.

The City continues to assist and protect people experiencing homelessness through COVID-19 vaccination, an increased focus on infection and prevention control (IPAC) measures in the shelter system, a pilot COVID-19 rapid testing program for new admissions and referring people to safer inside space with supports including meals, laundry, harm reduction and access to a housing worker.

This year the City is spending $663.2 million on Homelessness and Housing First Solutions – like supportive housing. This is almost double what the City spent before the pandemic, in 2019 ($365.8 million).

To date, more than 7,500 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered to people experiencing homelessness and who are precariously housed, as well as staff working in the homelessness and housing sector through on-site clinics in the shelter system, or through a mobile clinic. As of June 4, 53 per cent of people staying in the City’s shelter system that week have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

A robust effort is underway to make sure infection prevention and control measures in the shelter are strengthened and improved where needed. This has led to a reduction in outbreaks – there is one outbreak in one shelter as of this past Sunday.

From April 2020 to April 2021, the City has helped 5,518 people experiencing homelessness move from the shelter system into permanent housing.

The report notes that the City has referred almost 1,600 people staying in encampments to safe inside space since April 2020. Since July 2020, City and partner agency staff have engaged more than 19,000 times with people living outside, including those staying in encampments – listening to and understanding their needs on a daily basis with care and compassion, and offering them safe inside space with supports including meals, laundry, showers, mental health and addiction supports, interim housing, and referrals to permanent housing.

There have been 100 fires in encampments so far this year. Recently, Toronto Fire Services cleared 24 propane cylinders and other flammable and combustible materials, including gas cans, at a makeshift encampment near the Don Valley Parkway. In 2020, Toronto Fire Services responded to 253 fires in encampments – a 250 per cent increase over the same period in 2019.

The City will enforce bylaws at encampments after exhausting all options to help people move from encampments to safer, indoor spaces. Space remains available in the City’s shelters and its hotel program for all those living in encampments.

Quotes:

“I want to thank our City staff for the ongoing work they are doing to get people vaccinated and to help people find safe housing options. More than 1,600 people from encampments – including more than 200 people in the last month – have moved to safe, inside space and more than 5,500 people who were staying in our shelter system have moved into permanent housing during the pandemic. We must continue with all of those efforts but at the same time acknowledge that encampments are not safe, they are not healthy and they are not legal. We will never stop working to help our homeless residents have safe housing options – in the last week we opened a new shelter in Scarborough and we are continuing to work with local communities to open new modular housing sites to provide more supportive housing units.”
– Mayor John Tory

“The City has taken significant action to ensure the safety of our shelter system and the people it serves during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Today’s City Manager’s staff report highlights the importance of continuing to focus on, and support, people experiencing homelessness, and to accelerate the creation of housing alternatives for these vulnerable residents.”
– Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson (Scarborough Centre), Chair of the Economic and Community Development Committee

“This past year has presented unprecedented challenges for all residents but particularly those who are most vulnerable in our City.  The City has undertaken significant actions to support those who need our help the most including through the shelter system and in the provision of safe and stable housing.  This report shows the City’s considerable work to date and proposes even more important and impactful actions ahead to support those most in need in our City.”
– Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão (Davenport), Chair of the Planning and Housing Committee

SOURCE  City of Toronto

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