City staff have been fanning out to various makeshift encampments beneath the Gardiner Expressway, near the Eaton Centre and other locations handing out notices to vacate within 14 days and offering assistance to find shelter.
Terence Campos told CBC Toronto he's been told to be ready to clear out of his encampment in the shadow of the Spadina off ramp at any moment.
Brad Ross, the city of Toronto's chief communications officer, says while making sure that all residents are safe and have respite from extreme weather is a priority for the city, erecting tents and other structures on city property is not permitted.
"We have Streets to Homes staff who continue to work with individuals who are in these encampments and other homeless people to help them access shelter and any other support they may need," Ross said.
Ross says the encampments are not new, but have spread to locations that are encroaching on sidewalks and rights of way and some are right up against roadways.
Some tents appear to be heated using propane and that also poses a health and safety risk, he said.
"We want everybody be safe. So certainly if people in these encampments are using material that could be unsafe to them whether it's carbon monoxide or risk of fire — all of those things are a concern," Ross added.
"We want to make sure that they have proper shelter that they have access to services that we can find them housing and other supports."
While in some cases the encampment violates city bylaws, Ross said staff are not using the threat of a fine.
"It's a 14-day notice, so plenty of time to gather your belongings remove everything. And so after 14 days we'll return and if necessary we will remove those items," said Ross.
But those who advocate for the homeless say this is a callous move by the city on some of the coldest days so far this winter.
"People are doing measures like this because they're trying to survive. So they're here in encampments. Some people try to survive by staying outside," said Cathy Crowe, a street nurse and activist.
Crowe disputes the city's claim that there are spaces available at shelters, respite centres and out-of-the-cold programs.
"There's nowhere for people to go. It's really bad timing."
Crowe said one night this week a record 1,002 people slept in an out-of-the-cold program. The city has set up nine 24-hour respite centres, which are not permanent shelters.
"There aren't spaces. A thousand people had to sleep in places that are not shelter," she said, adding that most shelters are at or near capacity," she added.
"We're calling for the opening of other facilities, such as federal buildings like the armoury or city buildings, such as Metro Hall. The mayor should declare a state of emergency on homelessness."