As winter temperatures continue to drop below freezing and Toronto’s homeless shelter system is at capacity, Canadian comedian Colin Mochrie and other notable Canadians are using their platforms to ask the City of Toronto to stop evicting unhoused people living in encampments.
In a video shared on Mochrie’s social media on Friday, the actor implored city officials — specifically Mayor John Tory — to put a moratorium on kicking out Torontonians experiencing homelessness from their tents and tiny DIY shelters.
“Imagine being homeless and evicted from your encampment. Sounds like a Dickens novel,” said Mochrie in the clip, referencing the societal heartlessness experienced by characters written by author Charles Dickens.
Made in solidarity with Encampment Support Network (ESN), Mochrie’s video echoed the local advocacy collective’s long-running anti-eviction stance and demands for the city to better support homeless people.
ESN volunteers have provided essential supplies to encampment residents since June, the Toronto Star reported, with volunteers telling the outlet they aimed to provide for the basic needs neglected by gaps in the city’s social service systems.
“Imagine being homeless and evicted from your encampment. Sounds like a Dickens novel.”
As a report by advocacy group Right To Housing found, the number of people living in encampments have risen since the pandemic started.
“This is during a time when we’re supposed to be thinking about goodwill towards other humans,” Mochrie added. “At a time when we’re in the middle of a raging pandemic and health concerns should be top of our mind. It doesn’t seem fair.”
In response to growing opposition and a court challenge, the city has maintained its bylaw enforcement on the grounds that the encampments ― which they believe are lived in by 400 to 500 people, far below Right To Housing’s estimates of 1,000 to 2,000 people ― are an alleged safety hazard and that their winter plan to offer people increased indoor sleeping options and provide notice before tearing down encampments is adequate.
“Conditions in encampments create significant health and safety concerns for those living outside, as well as for the community-at-large. Lack of clean drinking water, access to showers and washrooms, medical care, harm reduction services, as well as safe heating sources give rise to dangerous conditions in encampments and the areas surrounding them,” reads a statement on the city’s website, posted after the court challenge.
Mochrie also asked for “at least 2,000” downtown hotel rooms to be offered as an alternative to cramped shelters; critics have condemned the city’s relocation efforts for sending people to “shelter hotels” in faraway suburbs where they can’t access the social services they rely on. And as The Local notes, that shelter hotels located away from these services can be dangerous for people struggling with substance use.
Famous Canadians stand in solidarity
The “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” star’s statements comes on the heels of similar videos made by other Canadian actors:
“This Is The End” lead Jay Baruchel: “Please stop kicking people out of their homes. Especially this year. Especially as we get closer to Christmas.”
“Carmilla” actor Annie Briggs: “This is a message for [Ontario] premier Doug Ford, mayor John Tory, and city councillor Brad Bradford ... seems to be costing the city a lot to criminalize and harass individuals living in these encampments.”
This campaign also includes open letters by ESN allies calling for a stop to encampment evictions. One letter, written on behalf of almost 400 Canadian musicians, was signed by Feist, and Kevin Hearn of the Barenaked Ladies.
“Clearing life saving shelters which provide warmth is not a solution. Tiny shelters and tents are people’s property. People depend on their social ties and community bonds to survive,” the letter states.
It also points out that the city’s actions contradict with pandemic safety guidance for homeless populations provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which report that tearing down tents and DIY tiny shelters may increase potential COVID-19 spread, not deter it.
“Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread,” the CDC’s website states, before going on to urge service providers to make sure clean hand-washing and bathroom facilities are nearby.
Giving people permanent homes and ending chronic homelessness remains the long-term goal for many housing advocates.
“It’s about $60,000 a year cheaper to house someone with proper supports than to keep them in a shelter, the city says,” noted Toronto Star housing reporter Donovan Vincent in a June story.
How people are supporting those in Toronto encampments
Aside from initiating discussions with officials and donating directly to ESN’s Patreon campaign to help volunteers give resources like sleeping bags and tarps, Canadian-run groups like Club Quarantine and Lavender have pooled their talents for virtual party fundraisers.
Others are building insulated tiny shelters, like carpenter Khaleel Seivwright ― the volunteer’s work was threatened by city officials, a move decried by many, according to CTV News.
Resharing advocacy efforts and public campaigns like Mochrie’s are also ways to raise awareness. One Twitter user did just that, with a sly reference to Mochrie’s improv past on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”, parodying how host Drew Carey would start the show.
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