NOW MagazineNewsWhat Life Is Like In Temporary Housing In Toronto During COVID-19
Three Torontonians living in precarious housing say they are afraid of ending up in the shelter system
As winter weather conditions fast approach, homeless people in Toronto face few temporary housing options to protect themselves this winter.
While the city released a winter plan that includes 560 additional accommodation spaces, housing advocates have countered that this was not enough to accommodate more than 1,000 homeless people.
Toronto also continues to close encampments, which many see as the only safe alternative for people without housing during the COVID pandemic.
Meanwhile, tenant advocates have staged eviction rallies. They say the Tenant Landlord Commission has conducted hundreds of eviction hearings in recent weeks. Another rally is planned take place Sunday afternoon (November 29).
“The obvious public health risk posed by mass evictions in the context of # COVID19 is that once tenants are evicted, people are forced to move out with family and friends,” Cole Webber, a community legal worker from Parkdale Community Legal Services said on twitter.
In an update to the COVID-19 modeling projection on November 26, Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto and co-chair of the COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Table of the Ontario said the province was seeing a surge in infection. levels in areas where the percentage of suitable housing is lowest, i.e. overcrowded housing conditions.
Public health officials observed this trend in the first two waves, he added.
“It’s long-standing structural factors… that are behind these much higher infection rates,” he said.
A provincial moratorium on residential evictions during the pandemic ended in July.
City officials including Mayor John Tory and Toronto Board of Health Chairman Joe Cressy have called on the province to reinstate the residential eviction ban now that Toronto is in a 28-day lockdown.
We spoke with three people in Toronto who were trying to navigate temporary housing situations during the pandemic.
” It’s my house “
Domenico Saxida has been in a park camp at Scadding Court for over a year and has lived in a shelter. He never wants to go back. He says the shelters don’t feel safe and are vulnerable to theft and fighting. At the camp, he feels a sense of community and family.
“We’re all looking out for each other here,” he says. “We make sure people clean up after them. We make sure that no one disturbs the residents of the park or causes any drama with the neighbors. Everyone keeps their campsite clean. We have rules to follow. ”
According to Saxida, his settlement was among the first in the city to be targeted for forced evictions to relocate residents to the Better Living Center, a new 24-hour respite center.
The installation’s design has elicited negative reactions from activists who argue that the glass barriers separating the spaces from the center do not allow for privacy.
“The city can do its best, but I’m not moving from here,” says Saxida. He grew up and worked in the neighborhood, and he says he doesn’t want to get away from the community.
“My therapist, my psychiatrist, my dentist, all of my medical needs are downtown, in this neighborhood,” he says. “Why should I live in Scarborough, Mississauga, Etobicoke when this is my home?”
On November 21, the Encampment Support Network Toronto (ESN) and other activists began building insulated foam-based structures during a protest outside Mayor John Tory’s condo.
Foam domes include LED lights, air vents, smoke and carbon monoxide detector, and fire safety signage. The structures are intended for the residents of the camps so that they can warm up this winter. But city officials said the structures posed a fire risk and should be removed from public parks.
The structures are similar to Scarborough resident Khaleel Seivwright’s Tiny Shelters project, which are small, isolated mobile shelters for homeless people. City officials have also sent Seivwright a warning letter, telling him to stop production because his mobile shelters are interfering with the city’s plan to move people off the streets.
On November 20, city officials verbally notified camp residents that they would begin clearing three encampments, including Moss Park and Holy Trinity, over the next few weeks, activists said.
Responding to questions about the choice of evicting people from the settlements, the city representative said in an email, “The city’s goal is to move people indoors to safe spaces. The conditions in the settlements create significant health and safety concerns for those living outside. ”
They noted that “the camps are not cleared until notice has been given and everyone sleeping there is offered a safe indoor space.”
Limited and short-term accommodation spaces
Sarah White lives in a hotel refuge after being moved from a camp on Park Road at the end of July. She says that in her experience there are often city workers who come and tell people to set up tents, which is why living in a camp can be difficult.
“It wouldn’t be that easy to live in a camp having to take down your tent and transport it every day,” she says.
White and the rest of the residents of his camp were moved to the same hotel-refuge. But four months later, White says she’s the last of her group still living there.
“It’s a little sad,” she said. “A lot of people are back on the streets. One person got housing, but unfortunately a few people went to jail for various reasons.
White is grateful to have a place at the refuge hotel during the pandemic. She is happy to have her own space and warmth during the winter compared to a more typical hideaway where people are gathered.
However, she understands why shelters are not for everyone.
“Based on past shelter experience, you can better protect yourself in the camps. Shelters can be very dangerous, ”she said. “If you’re used to having that kind of freedom in a camp, shelters don’t give you much.
White has been living in temporary housing in Toronto since 2016 and says she is on a waiting list for long-term housing, but doesn’t know how long the process will take.
“Ultimately my goal would be to get back to work,” she says. “But in order to do that, I need a proper roof over my head.”
Tenants facing evictions have few options for temporary housing
People living in long-term accommodation do not feel safe in the city either.
Hicham Alasbachi is a tenant of a building on Weston Road owned by Starlight Investments. He has been facing an eviction since early 2020. He says he needed rent relief that his landlord was unwilling to accommodate.
Alasbachi uses a wheelchair almost all the time and is a beneficiary of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). He has been living in his apartment since 2018 and says when he moved to Canada he struggled for months to find a landlord who would be willing to accept a tenant in a wheelchair.
“Not all owners accept someone in a wheelchair or someone who wants to install poles in the apartment,” he says.
He loves the area because grocery stores and other essentials are nearby and easily accessible. But he received an eviction notice in January and was due to hold a hearing with the Landlord and Tenant Board in March. The hearing was postponed due to emergency pandemic measures in Ontario, but Alasbachi learned a few days ago that his landlord was still proceeding with the eviction.
Alasbachi calls for a moratorium on evictions in Toronto with other collective action groups because he fears he will end up homeless.
“It is very difficult for a person in a wheelchair to enter a shelter,” he says. “To be safe you have to be strong and stay safe.”
In an email, the city said that while the province is responsible for the eviction issues, “the city is in the process of legally challenging Bill 184.”
Critics of the bill, which became law this summer, say it makes the eviction process easier for homeowners.
Alasbachi also says that there are very few shelter places available. For him and the other tenants who face eviction and find themselves homeless, the temporary housing situation in Toronto is grim.
Alasbachi says he will continue to advocate for a moratorium on evictions and hopes his story will be one of the lessons to be learned.
“I will continue to fight and I will not surrender, for myself and for others,” he said.