Toronto clears three downtown encampments and ejects some occupants to unknown locations

By: Victoria Gibson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star
Three downtown Toronto encampments were  cleared out Wednesday, with some occupants moving to indoor shelter, but  others who refused the city’s offers displaced to unknown locations.
The  clearings at George Hislop Park, Barbara Hall Park and on a median of  University Avenue alarmed some homeless services workers, who are  concerned that several occupants were ejected without a clear  destination.
“During this time of COVID in particular, shuffling people around the city is just poor public  heath policy,” said Lorraine Lam, a Sanctuary Ministries outreach worker  who stumbled across the clearing at George Hislop. “We have no idea  where they’re going to go.”
City  spokesperson Brad Ross said two people at George Hislop accepted offers  to move inside; three did not. He said everyone at Barbara Hall and on  University accepted indoor referrals.
“There  is inside space available for all who were approached. They have the  right to decline, but the city has the obligation to ensure parks are  able to be used safely by all,” Ross said.
The city issued trespass notices at the three sites Monday. Asked if  Wednesday’s events would be a precursor to other clearings, Ross did not  directly answer. “We’re focused on ensuring people in encampments can  safely come inside,” he said.
Toronto  Drop-In Network consultant Pat O’Connell said the city assured staff in  the homelessness sector on Tuesday that notice would be given before  encampment clearings.
“The  city has made many promises to us about consultation and inclusion in  decision-making and have not followed through,” she said. “I anticipate  given how these encampments were cleared that the city will proceed the  same way with the others.”
Photographs  Lam shared with the Star show what appear to be security officers  lining the sidewalk, as she said the remaining occupants packed their  belongings.
“They come with a spirit  of coercion versus collaboration,” Lam claimed. “I can’t help but  wonder if all three of those residents who were in the encampments  today, if they refused to go to the hotel shelters and they didn’t want  to clear their tents, what would have happened?”
Ross  said those who didn’t accept indoor spots left “freely and without  incident.” Asked about the security officers, he said their presence was  to “ensure the safety of everyone involved.”
As of March 31, the city believed between 400 and 450 people were living outside. As the weather has warmed, the city has distributed trespass notices to numerous camps,  including some that warned of an April 6 deadline. The city later  backed off that deadline, as the hotel it was using as a priority site  for encampment occupants was hit by a COVID-19 outbreak.
As of Tuesday, there were 115 infections across 11 shelters, including a half-dozen hotels.