Clarence Square Park

Progress Update on Clarence Square Action Plan - July 4, 2024

I’m sharing  recent updates for Clarence Square Park from the last several weeks, as well as the latest work from the City to address the shelter and housing crisis in our city. As you know, we are committed to connecting individuals to housing as a matter of quality of life, addressing  and ensuring community access to our shared parks and green spaces.

I know there have been concerns about the progress, and my commitment is to keep moving forward together.

Parks, Forestry and Recreation (PFR) staff continue to visit Clarence Square daily to conduct clean-ups, and garbage collection. The Community Safety team continues to operate during the evening and overnight (4pm to 8am), 7 days a week. Security is stationed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Toronto Fire Services visit the site, as it is a priority site, to identify and educate on fire safety. We have community outreach partners attending the site, such as Albion Neighbourhood Services, Na Me Res, YMCA, and healthcare partners such as the Inner-City Health Associates’ Street Clinical Outreach teams.

After a consistent decline in people encamping in the park since the start of the Action Plan, during the month of June, there was an uptick reaching a high of 24 individuals and 18 structures. This has ensured an reinforcing of measures key to the Action Plan, and with the help of our community partners and city staff using the Housing First approach and Encampment Prevention Plan, we saw the number of individuals go back down to 17 as of the end of June, and to the lowest number of structures since the Action Plan began at 12. In June 4275 kg of material was removed from the park.

This site remains a priority site for the Encampment Office, and all enhanced services remain in place, as the goal is to see successful housing outcomes and/or referrals into the shelter system. We are also working with PF&R staff to see how to beautify aspects of the park such as the off leash area and proposed additional tree planting this summer.

Additionally, I want to share updates on the City’s approach to encampments and shelters.

Last week at City Council, two important strategies passed, guiding the City’s efforts on encampments and shelters. First, The City’s Encampment Approach and Strategy outlined the City’s updated strategy for dealing with encampments, such as the one at Clarence Square Park, passed. As you may remember, last year the City’s Ombudsman wrote a serious report on the City’s failures during the encampment clearings of 2021. The report outlines how 28 of the 31 recommendations from the Ombudsman have been implemented, with staff working to resolve the final three.

The encampment at Clarence Square Park is following the new approach recommended in this report. Building on the lessons of the Dufferin Grove and Allan Gardens model, staff have created a unique program, based on the local needs, to ensure that at Clarence Square we are addressing the challenges in real ways, not just pushing those in encampments to a different park. This strategy will continue to be used at Clarence Square, and through encampments as they arrive in our City.

The second item, Advancing the Homelessness Services Capital Infrastructure Strategy, is taking the next steps to address our shelter crisis, funding 10 to 13 new shelter locations. This path forward creates an equitable system that looks to build shelter spaces across Toronto, not just in the downtown core. This path allows neighbours to stay in their communities. The creation of smaller 80 to 100 bed shelters, also follow the best practices the City has learned throughout the pandemic era. A proper shelter system will ensure residents have a safe and secure place to sleep at night.

While these reports align the work we are doing, this is a difficult process for our neighbourhood, and I am taking this seriously. Through these motions, City Council is clear, like us, that encampments are not a long-term solution to homelessness. Housing is the answer to homelessness. We’ll keep taking steps to address the housing concern, but that work is not done. Right now, we prioritize supporting the unhoused to ensure they are moved to shelter spaces and permanent housing to ensure a safer, more inclusive Toronto for all.

Progress Update on Clarence Square Action Plan - May 3, 2024

Over the past month, we have continued to make strides in our efforts at Clarence Square Park. Through collaboration with City staff, nonprofit service providers, and emergency services, we’ve continued our work to ensure the safety and well-being of all community members and to provide a productive transition to secure permanent housing.

Since our last update, the City has further scaled up presence and supports in the park. These include: 

  • Twice daily visits by the Toronto Police Service’s 52 Division Neighbourhood Community Officers to conduct patrols around the entire park’s property. This includes a visit in the late afternoon/early evening.
  • A second Community Safety Team (CST) being deployed to the park, covering 16 hours per day. In the remaining eight hours during the day between 8am and 4pm, operational staff are on-site to address hazardous materials clean up, and community safety concerns.

As of now, there are 15 encampments with 11 people staying at Clarence Square Park. Four people are engaged, but not yet committed to a housing plan, and staff are building rapport with them to keep moving forward. Ten people have housing plans. Since August 1, 2023, we have completed 36 shelter referrals from this location, and since January 1, 2024, two persons have been housed. Since April 1, 2024, 12,065 kg of material has been removed from the park. City staff provide regular updates to my office regarding successful housing outcomes and site cleaning activities. We will keep working to ensure that people can access services and resources that lead to long-term housing and that the park is safe and accessible for all.

Your input and feedback will be invaluable in helping us continue to identify areas for improvement - please reach out at [email protected] or sign up on this page for monthly updates. My commitment is to provide insight into the steps taken to ensure the long-term success of the Clarence Square Action Plan.

These efforts for lasting positive results will take working together, and with consistent effort, consideration, and community support, we can make a meaningful impact.

Progress Update on Clarence Square Action Plan - April 11, 2024

Over the past month, significant progress on the Clarence Square Action Plan has taken place in response to my urgent call in March. My team and I have worked with City staff to keep seriously prioritizing the safety and well-being for all of our community members and provide a productive transition to secure permanent housing.

Since March 15, the City has scaled up its presence and supports in the park. Important measures that have been been implemented in line with the Action Plan, include:  

  • 24/7 Security: A minimum of two security guards are now stationed on-site around the clock, supplemented by a community safety team operating in the evenings.
  • Staff Trailer: A staff trailer has been set up to ensure the daily presence of City staff and community service providers. This has enhanced outreach and support, prioritizing housing/shelter availability, maintaining and cleaning the park, and providing culturally-connected service providers to assist residents in need.
  • Maintenance and Safety Measures: Daily clean-up from Parks Forestry and Recreation, and a second portable toilet, as well as regular and on-going attendance by Toronto Fire Services.

Since the beginning of March of the 18 encamped residents, 9 are now actively moving towards housing and rapport is actively being built with 6 other individuals. That brings the total of indoor referrals made in 2024 to 21. In terms of maintenance, City staff removed 7.52 tonnes of waste in March and an additional 1.62 tonnes in April. 

This week the staff trailer was installed in the park to bolster the daily work of street outreach staff. This is a modified shipping container for staff to connect individuals to services on-site. Staff can now spend more time facilitating access to primary care, mental health and substance use supports, as well as harm reduction services, income support and ID replacement needed for housing plans and lease signings. 

I will be meeting with a task force of housing providers, social support organizations, and City staff. This team will inform and guide our response to ensure residents are housed as quickly and safely as possible. My team and I will meet with them bi-weekly to assess the effectiveness of the implemented measures. 

New Clarence Square Action Plan - March 15, 2024

In response to my call one week ago for a Clarence Square Action Plan, the General Manager of Toronto Shelter and Support Services (TSSS) responded with the commitment and first steps necessary to implement the Clarence Square Action Plan. You can see the full response here.

In the response, TSSS has committed that starting immediately and over the next month they will be scaling up presence and supports in the park including: 

  • A minimum of two security guards on-site 24/7 beginning now, with two 24/7 community safety teams on-site to follow. 
  • A staff trailer, which will facilitate the daily presence of City staff and community service providers for enhanced outreach and supports ensuring: housing/shelter availability is presented and prioritized; the park is maintained and cleaned; and culturally-connected service providers are available to help residents in need.  
  • Daily clean-up from Parks Forestry and Recreation, and a second portable toilet, as well as regular and on-going attendance by Toronto Fire Services.
  • Initiating the Encampment Prevention Plan in April, a focused and intensive deployment of supports and resources with the overall goal of ensuring all residents have an indoor place to stay, and the park is returned to full community use. 
  • Establish and begin organizing the regular meeting of the Clarence Square Working Group composed of local service providers and City Staff to inform and guide the response to ensure residents are housed as quickly and safely as possible.

As previously mentioned, we have seen positive outcomes and lessons learned of a program like this at Allan Gardens, where the encampment that reached a height of 89 people is now down to 6, with the vast majority going into shelter or permanent housing. While this work takes time, ensuring residents are provided permanent shelter increases the likelihood that those requiring shelter do not need to return to the park or simply relocate to other parks nearby in the neighbourhood. 

The City has seen time-and-again that mass evictions do not work. They do not solve the housing and homelessness crisis, they do not keep people from returning to the park, and they have been deemed unconstitutional by the Ontario Superior Court.

The Clarence Square Action Plan creates a path to shelter for all those in the park, and will focus on lasting results to ensure the park is a place for everyone in our community to enjoy.

Calling for a Clarence Square Action Plan - March 8, 2024

On Friday, March 8, I sent the following letter to the General Manager of Toronto Shelter & Support Services (TSSS), calling for a Clarence Square Action Plan. Based upon the successful lessons we have learned at Allan Gardens, this Clarence Square Action Plan must include: 

  • additional security and fire safety personnel deployed around the clock to  ensure safety and provide a rapid response to any emergencies
  • a permanent ongoing presence in the park by Streets to Homes and outreach counsellors to expedite housing solutions for our vulnerable neighbours
  • daily clean-up crews from Parks, Forestry, and Recreation on-site to help restore the park to a safe and accessible condition.
  • the creation of a working group comprised of City staff and service providers, that will meet weekly to ensure swift action as the work evolves
  • a formal plan for full community use of the park 

Our city is at a time of transition. While the Housing Crisis still affects Toronto’s unhoused population, the housing and shelter wins we achieved through Mayor Chow’s 2024 budget have raised the opportunity for further action to take place. It is important that these new resources help ensure shelter spaces for encamped residents are provided, and that community supports are onsite to expedite the delivery of these critical services effectively.

Recently, we have seen the success of such a program in Allan Gardens. The City now has the ability to create such a program for sites like Clarence Square Park. I look forward to working with Toronto Shelter & Support Service staff to ensure this happens.

Update - February 29, 2024

This morning there was an alarming fire incident at Clarence Square Park. I fully understand that the incident highlights the pressing safety concerns and fears, not only of those in critical need of stable housing but also to the community surrounding Clarence Square Park. I am very relieved to hear that no injuries were reported.

I met with the Deputy Fire Chief who reported no injuries, and I am working with the Encampment Office, with Toronto Police Services on site, to ensure immediate action is taken to keep the area safe from fire risks and related dangers. My office has been working closely with Toronto Shelter & Support Services in the past weeks to organize a task force that includes department heads of various city divisions, local community organizations and greater coordination of City Divisions to expedite the housing of encampment residents through specialized services. 

This matter continues to be a priority for me. We know that in our downtown core, public spaces including our parks are much-needed shared spaces used by residents, workers, and visitors. 

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. City Council passed a budget that will accelerate and protect affordable housing by enabling the City to build 65,000 rent-controlled homes, investing in shelters and critical community services, and in our emergency services. This new budget will also allow us to expand the Clarence Square Park encampment response.

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

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. The City's position is always 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. 

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 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 
  • Graffiti
  • Request Sidewalk and street cleaning 

911 Emergency Services 

For situations where the safety of people or property are at risk

  • Fire
  • 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: 

Will you join Councillor Ausma Malik – Ward 10, Spadina–Fort York?

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