Open Letter against Encampment Evictions from Building Roots

Dear,
Mayor John Tory
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam
Mary-Anne Bedard, General Manager of Shelter, Support & Housing Administration
Janie Romoff, General Manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation Department
Christine Elliot, Minister of Health,

December 3, 2020

I’m writing to you from Building Roots, a progressive grassroots social venture that began in 2013 in response to a lack of fresh food access and agricultural growing space across Toronto, more specifically, Moss Park and downtown Toronto East. We work primarily to build resources for social cohesion and co-create targeted interventions with communities. We collaborate closely with partner agencies, volunteers, community leaders, and local businesses to deepen and expand our reach. We develop innovative solutions to some of the city’s lowest income neighbourhoods and social disparities such as poverty, social isolation and inadequate housing.

Thus far, we have provided the Moss Park encampment with over 200 warm meals, weekly cases of fresh fruit, and 100 winterized sleeping bags and emergency blankets. Although a necessary and meaningful offering, this is not enough.

We care deeply about the encampments and our unhoused neighbours for multiple reasons and urge against encampment evictions. Folks in the encampment should be permitted to stay where they are until better and more dignified alternatives are available.

Firstly, we know encampments are the result of a decades-long housing crisis caused by public policy that encouraged the financialization of housing while cutting investments in affordable housing and Rent-Geared-to-Income options in the downtown core. 

Secondly, clearing encampments spreads COVID-19. This is a public health issue. The CDC still recommends that encampments not be cleared: “Unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.” 

The City’s winter plan falls short on providing enough space for people. The plan provides space for 560 people but advocates and outreach workers estimate that there are over 1000 people sleeping on the streets and with the current ‘eviction blitz’ that number is going to grow. 

Thirdly, The shelter system is full. People calling central intake every night are not able to get beds. People will be sleeping outside regardless of whether or not encampments are cleared, but without the communities they’ve created over the past months and years. Additionally, shelter hotels don’t work for everyone. Facilities like the City Plaza at Jane & Wilson hotel are far away from people’s communities, families, jobs, friends, social services and overdose prevention sites, and don’t all have robust overdose prevention programs, which can result in death. One death is too many.

Lastly, at this time, it is critical that the City provide encampment residents with basic survival gear and access to sanitation, while also opening recreation centres and public washrooms 24/7 for encampment residents to stay safe, including during the day.

The City should follow the recommendations of the inquest into the death of Grant Faulkner, and provide survival gear, including fire safety, to those sleeping in tents. While City Council voted in favour of handing out survival gear on October 28, 2020, we have yet to see City workers do this on the ground. Thus far, City staff and police have confiscated people’s heat sources and destroyed people’s tents. 

As an organization, we will continue to do what we can to support our unhoused neighbours. We support the Encampment Support Network, and our unhoused neighbours in seeking shelter in encampments, and advocate against encampment clearings.

Thank you for your time,

Building Roots Team
Animal Liberation Kitchen
Community Matters Toronto
Jim Keenan, Minister, Saint Luke’s United Church