Homelessness advocates are taking the City of Toronto back to court, to enforce the City’s compliance with its commitments regarding shelter conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic…

On 15 May 2020, in response to a lawsuit filed by the coalition in late April, the City entered into an Interim Settlement Agreement. This settlement applies to all shelters, respites, drop-ins and COVID-19 homelessness response hotel rooms that are operated or funded by the City of Toronto. Under the terms of this agreement, the City agreed to certain enforceable commitments about conditions in the shelter system.

“Despite the City’s claims of compliance, the City’s Central Intake line continues on a daily basis to turn away individuals who are entitled to a shelter bed under the Settlement Agreement. This is not an occasional or unusual occurrence. Hundreds of people remain in encampments or are still sleeping rough due to difficulty finding shelter spaces, and the City’s own data shows that the capacity of the shelter system has declined substantially since the start of the COVID-19 crisis” said Jessica Orkin, a lawyer at Goldblatt Partners representing the coalition.

The Town of Goderich is sounding the alarm on a growing homelessness crisis in rural areas amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials say between eight and 11 people are sleeping rough in the town of 8,000, and another 21 people are being provided with temporary shelter.

“Since COVID, it’s now turned into a bit of a crisis and a real tragedy,” said Goderich Mayor John Grace. “For a small, rural community that has never dealt with this, it’s a big problem.”

Encampments popped up in area parks, like Maitland Woods, making the issue more visible to residents for the first time.

“Rural Ontario is not immune anymore to big-city issues,” Grace said. “We have homeless people here, we have people in dire straits and poverty — we have it.”

For a moment this spring it seemed as if the COVID-19 crisis might lead governments to ease the relentless cycle of displacement of homeless people from the parks, streets, ravines and underpasses of Canadian cities. Some made efforts to secure housing where homeless people could follow COVID-19 guidelines. Others, including in Edmonton, Toronto, and Victoria announced suspensions of evictions of some homeless camps during the emergency.

But the respite was short-lived. Edmonton and Toronto resumed clearances in May. British Columbia cleared Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver and the Topaz and Pandora camps in Victoria. Other camps were cleared from Winnipeg to Barrie, Ontario.

Back in April, U of T Scarborough sociology professor Joseph Hermer observed a trend that is now playing out on Toronto’s streets: how the spread of COVID-19 would impact the homeless, and the way that they are policed in public spaces.

Several worrying factors impacted their susceptibility: an inadequate shelter system, where social distancing has been a challenge, their increased likelihood to suffer from underlying health conditions, and the policing of the homeless, where many of the normal activities that this population undertake to stay alive are criminalized across Canada.

“Visible minorities and Indigenous Peoples are vastly over-represented in the homeless population,” explains Hermer. “Homelessness is a very visible expression of profound inequality and prejudice.”

The mayor of Sarnia thinks it’s time to take another look at a guaranteed annual income, this time on a national scale.

Ontario had previously experimented with the Basic Income Pilot program, but later cancelled it.

Now, Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley says with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) already running, the time has come to look at doing it on a national scale and not just for a time of crisis such as the current pandemic.

“I do think if you look at the fact you [don’t] want to leave a segment of society just dog paddling in life and getting no place, and no ability to get to a better place —then it’s worth trying on specific targeted groups to see if it works,” he said.

During this COVID 19 Pandemic, Justin Trudeau should seize this moment and take an initiative to implement new socially progressive programs, like a universal basic income and a national pharmacare program. Our country needs a Franklin Delano Roosevelt “New Deal” Approach to some of our country’s socioeconomic ills! Out of the Great Depression (1929 – 1939) and the Second World War (1939 – 1945) came Social Security and Unemployment Insurance, and in Canada’s case, Family Allowance (or the “Baby Bonus”). Many of our European allies implemented universal public medicare (including pharmacare) systems in their respective countries long before Canada did. Now, hard times call for desperate measures!

In June the news that 46 homeless people were arrested in a Vancouver, B.C. encampment for refusing to leave was cause for alarm across the country. In Kingston, Ontario, the threatened eviction of an encampment was put on hold in response to outcry from activists.

Municipalities are intentionally neglecting to provide the most basic public health measures for encampments: event-style washrooms, running water, handwashing stations, garbage pick-up and fire safety.

Encampments are here to stay and they will grow. Why? Because of the deafening silence both pre and post COVID on a national housing program.