City of Toronto provides temporary housing to people in encampments to curb COVID-19 spread


The City of Toronto announced Wednesday it is providing temporary housing to people living in encampments to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Speaking to reporters, Toronto Mayor John Tory said those living in encampments often do not follow physical distancing, raising serious public health concerns.

“We stopped clearing encampments during the initial stages of the pandemic, but those encampments have grown,” Tory said.

He said city staff on Wednesday started helping people in those encampments to move into two midtown buildings with a total of 125 fully furnished units. The residents will have access to laundry, free wi-fi and cable television.

The city said on-site support will be available to residents. It includes 24/7 support staff, meals, security and case management focused on long-term housing.

The city is leasing the mid-rise buildings from a local developer.

Tory said some have already moved today, and many more will move in the coming days.

“Health and safety will be a priority at this site with active and ongoing screening for COVID-19 and enhanced room and common area cleaning,” Tory said.

The mayor said people living in encampments will have prioritized access to the units.

“Our goal is to house people, and as we succeed in housing people as people move into these units and encampments will be cleared by city staff.

“This is about the spread and preventing the spread of COVID-19. I hope these will be a healthy and safe path to housing for people who need it right now,” Tory said.

Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said the program is a welcome news.

“People who enjoy stable housing conditions with supports that are appropriate for their needs are best positioned to lead their healthiest, happiest, and most productive lives,” she said.

“Housing instability is associated with a range of poor mental and physical health outcomes.”

Tory said he will also be proposing to city council on Thursday to endorse a modular housing initiative that will create 250 homes on two city-owned sites.

He said 110 modular homes are expected to be ready for occupancy by September this year. Another 140 housing units will be ready by next year.

The first phase of the initiative would cost $20.9 million, Tory said, with the funding coming from the city’s Development Charges Reserve Fund and from the Government of Canada through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Tory said the need for more supportive housing needs to be delivered as fast as possible, given the COVID-19 crisis the city is facing.

“I’ll be working with the province of Ontario to secure from them the operating funding for health-related support services and housing subsidies so that deeply affordable, supportive homes can be delivered at the two sites and delivered at wartime speed,” he said.​​

As of Wednesday, Toronto has 5,360 COVID-19 cases and 347 deaths. The city said 3,153 people have recovered from the virus.