TORONTO – NEWS – Since the start of the pandemic, the City of Toronto has been a leader in protecting people experiencing homelessness. It has implemented numerous safety measures in the shelter system to protect people, including opening more than 25 shelter locations to create physical distancing, infection prevention and control measures, mandatory mask wearing in all common areas, testing, and a focus on permanent housing.
The City recently established the Pathway Inside program to assist those living in four encampments – Moss Park, Trinity Bellwoods, Alexandra Park and Lamport Stadium – to provide the supports they need to come inside and, ultimately, find permanent housing.
To date, more than 60 people from these four encampments are participating in the Pathway Inside program. Since the pandemic began, almost 400 people from these encampments have accepted referrals to safe, inside space. The work this program is doing to give people safe indoor space will continue.
People staying in encampments have been engaged by City and partner agency staff more than 12,000 times since last July. The City and its partners heard from those sleeping outside that they want services at a downtown location, close to their community with harm reduction supports. The hotel program at 45 The Esplanade is assisting people who were living in encampments from across the city. This location meets the needs shared by residents of encampments and includes a private and secure room, bathroom, laundry and three meals a day. It is one of over 25 temporary sites that have opened since the start of the pandemic to keep people experiencing homelessness safe.
This program, importantly, also provides a housing worker to help individuals find permanent and affordable housing. Since the start of the pandemic, over 300 people living outdoors, including those in encampments across the city have successfully found permanent housing. Encampments are not an indefinite solution to unsheltered homelessness and the health outcomes for people who stay outside are complex and serious. Individuals living outdoors are also at risk of contracting COVID-19.
COVID-19 and its variants of concern continue to spread in the community, including in congregate settings like shelters, hospitals, schools and encampment sites. Toronto Public Health is reporting 15 outbreaks and 329 positive cases of COVID-19 among staff and clients linked to shelter outbreaks.
There are four people who were staying at the 45 The Esplanade hotel program who tested positive for COVID-19. These cases are not linked to transmission at this hotel, with three of the four cases being COVID-positive before coming to 45 The Esplanade from encampments. The individuals were immediately transferred to a recovery site and testing of all residents in the program is occurring. Today, Toronto Public Health advised that new referrals to this hotel program cannot continue at this time.
The notice posted in parks in March identified a date of April 6 to guide peoples’ decision making regarding offers of shelter, housing and other supports being offered. The City is continuing to make these offers and speak with residents in encampments. No enforcement action to vacate parks will occur on April 6 while the City continues to focus its efforts on offering the necessary means to keep people safe and support voluntary referrals into indoor space, including other hotel programs across the city that continue to accept referrals, as well as permanent housing options that become available.
Vaccination efforts across the city also continue, including for people experiencing homelessness. Local hospitals, Ontario Health Teams, Local Health Integration Networks, family doctors and community-based health care service providers began vaccinating people in the shelter system on March 1. Since then, 1,269 people in City-administered shelters, as well as 70 more people in other homelessness settings, have been vaccinated. That work will continue to ensure the city’s most vulnerable residents are protected from COVID-19. The City is also improving communication and support to clients about the importance of participation in vaccination, testing and safely isolating when directed to do so by Toronto Public Health.
The COVID-19 recovery site is for people experiencing homelessness. It allows them to safely isolate while they recover from COVID-19 and receive wrap-around medical supports. This site was a first in Canada and is operated in partnership with Inner City Health Associates, University Health Network, Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre and The Neighbourhood Group. Given the increase in COVID-19 transmission in Toronto and among people experiencing homelessness additional recovery space has been secured and is available.