Dozens of activists constructed green "foam domes" for unhoused people at a demonstration outside Mayor John Tory's condo on Sunday to make the point that there is a housing crisis in Toronto.
The event, part of National Housing Day, was held to draw attention to the plight of people living in encampments. Snow fell as the activists put together the insulated foam structures that will be distributed to people experiencing homelessness across the city.
Organizers said volunteers built 14 insulated foam structures on Sunday. The event, on Bedford Road near Bloor Street West, also drew a handful of uniformed police officers from 53 Division.
Lesley Wood, a member of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, told the activists that there is a city-wide movement to support unhoused people in Toronto, but that the city must do more now to prevent deaths this winter.
"It's cold here today and it's only starting to get colder. It's National Housing Day and it's the beginning of a second lockdown with this pandemic," Wood said in front of the condo.
"People are going to die and there's no need for it. This is a rich city, these are rich buildings, this is a rich mayor. And people have a right to housing and they also have a right to survive."
Wood said Toronto residents need to take care of each other as the pandemic continues.
"We need to make sure that people are survive together in the way that makes sense for them in this city," she said. "This city needs to step up."
Wood urged the city to meet the demands of the Encampment Support Network, made up of groups of volunteers delivering essential supplies to people in encampments.
The network wants the city to make an investment in "permanent, safe, dignified and affordable" housing, implement a moratorium on evictions, stop the criminalization of encampments, issue a moratorium on the clearing of encampments, and ensure all shelters and supportive housing are user-friendly and have overdose prevention and harm reduction services.
"People trying to survive is not a crime. People helping people to survive is not a crime. Nobody should be ticketed or harassed by police or security for living in a park," she said.
After she spoke, Wood told CBC Toronto that the event was held outside the mayor's condo because activists believe he is not listening.
Street pastor Doug Johnson Hatlem poked fun at the mayor, reading a passage from A Christmas Carol, a novella by Charles Dickens, to suggest that "Mayor Scrooge" needs to have a change of heart and make fighting poverty a priority.
"This mayor, who lives in this plush condo, has failed to use his emergency powers to stop evictions," Hatlem said.
Don Peat, spokesperson for Tory, said in a statement on Sunday that the mayor and city have been "working non-stop" during the pandemic to help homeless people and provide safe housing options.
"Since the COVID-19 emergency began, the City and community organizations have helped more than 1,100 people move from encampments to safe indoor spaces. That work on safe housing is continuing and will continue because we are committed to helping people move from homelessness into safe, indoor housing," Peat said.
"This is on top of the more than 6,000 people the City works to shelter every night in a system that has been dramatically expanded in the last few years and further expanded across Toronto to respect physical distancing and other public health requirements to keep people safe," he added.
Estimated 1,000 people living outside in Toronto
According to the city, the foam domes are made of "rigid" polystyrene, a material considered highly flammable. The city said using the foam domes close to any flame or heat source is dangerous.
"Our Toronto Fire officials have been absolutely clear that these temporary structures featured at the protest today are not safe. Longstanding laws focused on public safety also preclude these kinds of temporary structures being located in public parks," Peat continued.
"The Mayor and City Council have been clear that all governments need to work together to provide more safe housing options, especially supportive housing, to tackle homelessness."
According to the activists, the foam-based sleeping structures are outfitted with LED lights, air vents and a smoke and carbon monoxide detector. The activists said the foam domes are made with a fire retardant and are safer than highly flammable and freezing cold tents.
Homeless advocates estimate that there are roughly 1,000 people living outside in Toronto, while the city estimates the number is closer to between 400 and 500 people.