People in Moss Park encampment remain defiant, refuse a city notice to clear out

·3 min read

People living in an encampment in Moss Park braced themselves for eviction Thursday, but the city didn't follow through when they refused a notice telling them to clear out all their belongings.

Instead, the city says it will continue to work with those living in the tent camp to find them other places to live — adding it already has helped more than 100 people who've expressed a need for shelter move out of the park, located on Queen Street East between Jarvis Street and Parliament Street.

Derrick Black and his partner Michelle Plourd were handed a notice Wednesday threatening to remove the residents' possessions from the encampment — asking them to get their belongings out before 1 p.m. Thursday. The couple said they refused to leave.

"If I'm not getting a house, I'm not moving." Black said. "I'm not going down without a fight." The city had previously offered the couple a place to stay, at a hotel far from downtown Toronto.

According to the city, about a dozen people living in Moss Park refused offers to relocate on Thursday. Police and city workers ended up clearing garbage and hauling some items out of the park. Their encampment is just one of many in a number of locations throughout the city that house people experiencing homelessness —many of whom are camping out to avoid Toronto's homeless shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city's policy on encampments states that they are not permitted in city parks and therefore people cannot erect tents and other structures on city property.

Residents were served a Notice of Advice under Toronto Municipal Code Chapter 608. The notice states that staff have observed contraventions of the parks by-law including "Debris/personal goods left in a public park", "an obstruction/encumbrance in a public park", "structure, fence, posts or wires, digging or tunnelling in a public park without authority", and "camping in a public park without authority."

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, encampment clearing did not take place as the focus was on creating safe physical distancing within the shelter system, the city said.

Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC
Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC

Black and Plourd are represented by Brendan Jowett, a lawyer with Neighbourhood Legal Services who says the 24 hour notice wasn't enough.

"The city is required to give 72 hours notice if they want to remove people's belongings forcefully from a park setting," Jowett said.

The city says it's making progress finding shelter for people camping in Moss Park.

"Between Sunday and end of day Tuesday, July 14, the City's Streets to Homes outreach team and partners successfully engaged with 140 clients sleeping outside at the Moss Park encampment and moved them all into temporary inside spaces including hotels all with physical distancing in place," a media relations officer for the city said in an email to CBC Toronto.

The city says it is "actively engaged in trying to secure permanent housing for these individuals and families," and has permanently housed more than 1,300 people who were in shelters, hotels, interim housing and encampments.

Plourd says she was staying in Fred Victor Housing before coming to Moss Park. But when COVID-19 hit, she became frightened of contracting it and after seeing other tents going up, she decided to do the same.

"I told Derrick, 'You know what, we need to get a tent. I'm scared, I want to get away from the building,'" she said.