Thank you to all who have reached out to my office and shared their concerns with me about the ongoing situation in Clarence Square Park.
The City of Toronto is experiencing a homelessness emergency. Approximately 10,000 Toronto residents are currently facing homelessness. Every night, hundreds of people cannot access safe indoor space. In a city like ours, no one should have to be living outside in the cold.
We also know that in our downtown core, public spaces including our parks are much-needed shared spaces used by residents, workers, and visitors every day.
For the past several months, I have been working with City staff across divisions to provide the appropriate support and services that help encamped residents find shelter and housing. I have also been working to maintain regular communication with, and address the safety concerns of, neighbours to ensure the park can be accessible and well-maintained.
On this page, you’ll find information about:
Action we are taking
Since I took office, I’ve been in regular conversations with City staff about encampments across Ward 10. My work has involved bolstering the social services available to unhoused residents and making them more easily available to those in need. This includes lowering the threshold for opening Warming Centres, opening new supportive homes, and easing access to supportive social housing units, as well as enhancing street outreach across the ward.
We know Clarence Square Park has historically been a converging point for unhoused residents in the downtown core. We’ve seen reactionary strategies that have failed to resolve the issue in the past. Our collective work is to ensure that people can access services and resources that lead to long-term housing and ensure the park is safe and accessible for all.
Over the last several months, my team and I have:
- Met, shared information, and communicated with local service providers, surrounding condo boards, and residents
- Worked with City staff to increase presence and resources in the park
- Connected with residents every day to collect garbage and prioritise safety for all park users
- Helped to open additional winter spaces for people in the Better Living Centre
At this time, it is all hands on deck from the Street Outreach team, Parks Ambassadors, Toronto Fire Services, and the Encampment Office. Working together, they follow the approach laid out in the Ombudsman report and the The Dufferin Grove model which enhances existing outreach efforts at the park by having City staff work collaboratively with community partners at the advisory and operational levels. This brings comprehensive social and health service supports directly to the park to help reduce service barriers and promote client self-determination.
Staff from Streets to Homes and the Encampment Office are onsite twice daily, working to refer encamped residents to every possible indoor space available, while recognizing that the need for emergency shelter and support services exceeds the space available.
Our office has also been regularly meeting with City staff to accelerate work on areas of immediate improvement in the park. This includes:
- Having security on site 24/7, with two teams present overnight.
- PF&R Downtown East Needle Team attending daily to remove needles, sharps, and other drug-related paraphernalia.
- Outreach staff working with encampment residents every weekday to support their housing readiness and connect them to available indoor space.
- Toronto Fire Services visiting twice a week to help address fire risks and provide safety education.
- PF&R Encampment Operations Team to attend daily to continue footprint reductions and conduct cleaning around encampments.
- Gathering local agencies to provide support in providing services in the park.
This work will be adaptive and continue until all residents are housed.
What action is the City taking on the housing crisis?
Addressing housing instability is a multi-faceted effort that involves protecting rental units, increasing the number of deeply affordable homes, providing rent support to prevent evictions, and expanding the number of shelter spaces to match the growing need. As pandemic reliefs come to an end, every level of government must step up and provide both emergency and long-term funding to address the housing crisis and ensure no one is left behind.
The City's position is that the safest spaces are indoor spaces. Our current shelter system is often near or at full capacity. Some residents have been turned away or felt unsafe in these spaces, leaving many to feel that living outdoors is their best option. The City's centralized waitlist for subsidized housing for long-term rent-geared to income housing is unfortunately substantial and we know more must be done in the short-term to provide support.
I am actively working with my council colleagues and Mayor Chow to meet the housing crisis with the urgency it requires and to utilise all tools at the City’s disposal. Actions we have taken over the last few months include:
Moving to build 65,000 new affordable homes, including two priority sites in Spadina-Fort York
Raising the Vacant Home Tax from 1% to 3%, with increased funding to supplement the Multi-Unit Residential Acquisition program, which preserves rental housing in Toronto
Redefining "affordable rental housing" and "affordable home ownership" to be based on income in the City’s 2020-2030 action plan
Exploring the potential for office conversions - and affordable housing - in Downtown Toronto
Implementing the Winter Services Plan, which has included expanding existing shelter sites, opening three new 24-hour winter respite sites, and working with our drop-in providers to extend their hours of operations at multiple sites, adding up to an additional 140 hours of drop-in services this winter.
Adopting the Shelter Infrastructure Plan, to increase shelter availability, including requests to the federal government to open up the armouries, including Fort York.
Opening new shelter locations is not easy. Of the 130 locations examined for warming centres, only 4 were deemed suitable. If you are aware of a location that could be home to a future shelter location, please contact Shelter, Support and Housing Administration as they are always looking for new locations.
There are also a number of policy choices from the provincial government that have significantly contributed to the current housing crisis, byproducts of which are an influx of homelessness and people living outdoors. These choices include wholly insufficient income supports for those living on Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) that are creating conditions for poverty and economic instability. The current provincial minimum wage is also unlivable in the City of Toronto.
The Province has not granted formal permission for the City's inclusionary zoning plan, which would guarantee a certain amount of each new development be earmarked for affordable housing. The Province has also removed rent-control on buildings first occupied after late 2018 which has led to higher and often unsustainable rents.
Who to Call
311 or 416-338-0889 (TTY)
To report concerns about:
- Excessive noise
- Excessive litter
- Hazardous materials in parks
- Illegal dumping
- Request Sidewalk and street cleaning
911 Emergency Services
For situations where the safety of people or property are at risk
- Crime in progress
- Medical emergency
- Agitated or aggressive behaviour
Toronto Fire Services 416-338-9375 or [email protected]
To discuss general non-emergency fire safety concerns related to an encampment.
Central Intake 416-397-5637
Telephone support to individuals seeking access to emergency shelter.
Toronto Community Crisis Response 211
If someone is experiencing emotional distress or in need of crisis intervention.
You can always get in touch with my office if you have any concerns that you aren’t sure where to direct at [email protected].
If you want to join the City’s calls, to ensure that other levels of government are supporting the City in responding to the homelessness crisis, you can: