Toronto’s ombudsman says the city’s encampment removal protocol is “unreasonable” because it is outdated and a detailed plan needs to be created to replace the city’s approach.
The city’s ombudsman, Kwame Addo published an interim report Thursday about an investigation into the handling of evictions from encampments in city parks last year.
The city dispatched dozens of uniformed law enforcement officers and police officers to clear out homeless encampments at several parks last summer, including Trinity-Bellwoods Park, Alexandra Park and Lamport Stadium Park.
The city said the evictions followed months of engagement with camp residents to encourage them to accept alternative housing. City officials said they had no choice but to clear the encampments because they were unsafe and illegal.
The evictions led to violent clashes between police and protesters and several arrests, and there was widespread public concern about the level of force used during the evictions.
In September 2021, the Toronto ombudsman’s office launched an investigation into the evictions, but did not assess the conduct of the Toronto police officers, as it is outside their mandate.
“We do not have the power to order the City to take any particular action, and we cannot prevent staff from enforcing City statutes, including the statute that makes camping in parks illegal. In short, we cannot order the City to clear or not clear the encampments,” the report says.
For its investigation, the ombudsman’s office says it conducted 50 interviews with city staff and community stakeholders, reviewed approximately 11,000 documents and spoke with 43 people living in encampments.
The office published eight recommendations in its report that the city must act on immediately to ensure that the city’s response to the encampments is carried out in a “coherent and coordinated manner, following a process that is well established, transparent and understood by all.” .
The office recommends that the city develop a detailed plan to outline how it will update its Interdepartmental Service Protocol for Homeless Persons Camping in Public Spaces (IDP), which was adopted in 2005.
“During the course of our investigation, we discovered that the IDP is out of date and not consistently followed by city staff. Although the City knew that the IDP needed to be updated, it does not have a detailed plan or timeline to guide this work. We believe this is unreasonable,” the report says.
The report notes that the plan must include project milestones and timelines for completion and that adequate staffing resources must be allocated for the upgrade.
Another recommendation is that the IDP update plan include public consultations to receive feedback from the community.
“Groups the city should consult with include people with lived experiences in encampments, community organizations that provide services to the homeless, and internal and external stakeholders working in the fields of housing and human rights,” the report says. .
The office recommends that the city make publicly detailed summaries of the comments it receives from these inquiries.
In addition to updating its IDP, the Ombudsman’s Office recommends that the City clearly define the role and mandate of the City’s Camp Office and assess what resources it needs to successfully carry out its functions.
The Office of Encampments was created in the summer of 2020 to help coordinate the city’s response to encampments.
However, the report says that some city staff noted that the office has been significantly under-resourced since day one.”
“Staff commented that the workload for a small team was “overwhelming” and that the office seemed to be going from “crisis to crisis” and unable to take a broader systemic view of responding to camps due to a lack of of resources. says the report.
Last year, the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) took over the city’s Office of Camps, but staff have raised concerns about whether this was the right move due to their “careful responsibilities.” unique,” including supporting the homeless and enforcing evictions from camps.
Due to the complexity of the Camp Office, the ombudsman’s office recommends that the city consider whether to remain under the direction of the OEM.
The City of Toronto says it has accepted the recommendations and is committed to implementing all of them.
“The City of Toronto accepts the Ombudsman’s recommendations and remains committed to strengthening its housing-first approach to street and encampment outreach and providing comprehensive, client-focused case management support for people who live outdoors, in a constructive and non-confrontational way”. the staff said in a statement Thursday.
The city says it will provide an update on its progress by the end of the year and quarterly thereafter.