TORONTO — Homeless individuals from four encampments in Toronto have begun moving to a hotel as part of a new city program.
City spokesman Brad Ross said Wednesday that 75 people have already moved into the downtown hotel, where the city has rented 250 rooms.
The new residents will have access to supportive services, something homeless individuals and advocates have long called for.
Ross said those who move to the hotel rooms will get meals, have access to counselling, addiction services, harm reduction on site and help from city staff to develop a housing plan.
"The objective with all shelters are just that — they're emergency shelters," Ross said.
"The objective, of course, is to get people housed and to develop housing plans."
Hundreds fled homeless shelters last year when the pandemic hit, many for fear of contracting COVID-19. Encampments large and small popped up throughout the city.
Those encampments have waxed and waned over the last year, but four main sites have persisted: Moss Park, Trinity Bellwoods Park, Alexandra Park, and Lamport Stadium.
Some encampment residents took the city to court last fall in an effort to temporarily override a bylaw that bans them from living in parks during the pandemic.
The group asked the judge for an interim order to allow homeless people to stay in encampments until a constitutional challenge of the bylaw is heard.
The judge said the group did not meet the standard of establishing harm to the public interest that would justify suspending the city's ability to enforce its bylaw.
The judge made a point to mention, however, that his decision was based on evidence from the summer when COVID-19 case counts were low.
Over the last year, the city has undertaken a widescale effort to find homes for the homeless.
The city said it has moved about 1,400 people inside in the last year, including 189 people from Moss Park, 30 from Trinity Bellwoods Park, 66 from Lamport Stadium and 37 from Alexandra Park.
There have been more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19 linked to the Toronto shelter system. There are currently outbreaks at eight shelters, with 179 cases.
COVID-19 variants of concern have also been found in shelters and encampments.
The city, province and numerous agencies are currently carrying out a COVID-19 vaccination blitz for the homeless.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2021.
Liam Casey, The Canadian Press