Park People Statement Against Encampment Clearances
December 10, 2020
- John Tory, Mayor of Toronto
- Ana Bailao, Deputy Mayor of Toronto, Councillor Ward 9 Davenport, Right to Home Working Group
- Mary-Anne Bedard, General Manager, Shelter Support and Housing Administration, City of Toronto
- Janie Romoff, General Manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation, City of Toronto
Re: Statement Against Encampment Clearances
Park People is a national charity that helps people activate the power of parks in cities and communities across Canada.
During the pandemic, Toronto and other Canadian cities have seen a rise in visible homelessness through encampments in parks. While living in a tent in a park is not a long-term solution to the lack of affordable housing in many Canadian cities, it is meeting a critical need for safe housing at this time and we urge the City of Toronto—and other Canadian cities—to put a moratorium on forced encampment evictions, removals, and clearances.
As the Encampment Support Network and others in the housing sector have already pointed out, there are valid reasons for why people would choose not to stay in a shelter at this time. These may include overcrowding, health concerns due to COVID-19, inability to access the supports/services they need, being required to move away from their neighbourhood and friends, and a lack of personal privacy and safety. Additionally, parks are on Indigenous land, and the forced removal of Indigenous people experiencing homelessness from parks repeats colonial violence.
Illustration Credit: Jake Tobin Garrett, jaketobin.ca
From our own survey of 51 cities in The Canadian City Parks Report in July 2020, we found that only 16% of cities said they had paused encampment clearances during the pandemic, despite recommendations from the CDC that encampments should not be cleared for public health reasons. On top of expert recommendations, we also found that 40% of the 1,600 Canadians we surveyed during the same month said that they would like to see increased supports for those experiencing homelessness using parks, such as washrooms and access to water.
In our 2020 Canadian City Parks Report, we interviewed several experts including elected officials, city staff, non-profit staff, and encampment residents themselves to understand the challenges with displacement and propose more inclusive ways to move forward. We believe these lessons are even more important during the pandemic. Some takeaways for cities are:
- Meaningfully engage with park users experiencing homelessness to work towards appropriate solutions (echoing the guidance of the UN’s National Protocol for Homeless Encampments in Canada).
- Provide access to basic amenities and services, like drinking water, washrooms, and sanitation facilities, in parks.
- Support park programming that brings together housed and unhoused neighbours in parks to challenge stigma and create shared understanding.
You can read more here.
As the commonly-held spaces in a city, parks are the places where we can learn to share space—and this is not always a comfortable experience, especially in the context of deep systemic inequities. We recognize that grappling with the reality of unsheltered homelessness in parks is a complex challenge that can feel beyond the comfort and expertise of some city parks staff. We also know this is an emotional subject for many, but we hope we can move forward with compassion and empathy, and in a way that upholds unhoused park users’ safety and rights, during this extraordinary public health emergency and beyond.