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From enforcement to outreach: report proposes new approach to Toronto encampments

A new report is proposing that Toronto move to clear homeless encampments only as a “last resort,” and with at least 72 hours of notice.

The report, prepared by Toronto’s shelter and support services department and set to be presented to a municipal committee next week, recommends expanding an outreach model focused on moving those in encampments to housing.

It also proposes laying out clear processes for initiating and carrying out enforcement, which would include written notice.

However, the document says the city would reserve the right to act without notice if a “public safety or health and safety concern requires immediate action.”

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Toronto is one of many Canadian cities grappling with rising homelessness and an overburdened shelter system.

Encampments cropped up in many of the city’s parks when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, as people left shelters out of fear of contracting the virus.

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Last year, Toronto’s ombudsman found the city caused unnecessary harm and showed a lack of respect for those living in parks when it cleared three homeless encampments in the summer of 2021.

In a news conference Wednesday, Coun. Alejandra Bravo said the city has completed 28 of the ombudsman’s 31 recommendations, and work is ongoing to address the remaining three.

The report proposes a shift away from enforcement and clearing, “which only moves people from one place to the next, and does not work as an approach to encampments,” she said.

“While there’s significant public pressure to remove encampments, especially from parks, safety is the condition for removal, and people need to know why and how it’s going to happen.”

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