OPSEU Local 556 supports the dignity and autonomy of unhoused people. In solidarity with those living in encampments and their allies, we call on the City of Toronto to cease eviction actions against encampment residents, repeal by-laws criminalizing homelessness, and redirect public infrastructure to creating decent, low-barrier geared-to-income housing for all.
As educators, counsellors, and librarians at a busy downtown college, we have seen firsthand the results of gentrification, over-policing, and growing unaffordability in the neighborhoods where we live and work. We have worried about our neighbors in the overcrowded and under-resourced shelter system, who have always faced unsafe conditions. Even before COVID-19, unhoused people faced structural and interpersonal deprivation, violence, and premature death. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 1,042 COVID cases linked to shelter outbreaks. As of March 30th, 2021, there were 14 active outbreaks and a total of 369 reported cases across city shelters.
While encampments are not an ideal solution, they represent a significantly safer option than the shelter system. Yet the City of Toronto has consistently targeted encampment residents with harassment, raids, and displacement. Over the past year, residents have faced ongoing threats of eviction, the seizure of basic survival equipment, and the dismantling of Tiny Shelters, foam domes and tents.
Toronto is Indigenous land. This territory is under the shared governance and stewardship of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Anishinaabe People, the Wendat and the Mississaugas of the Credit River, and subject to multiple treaties, including the Dish with One Spoon, the Two-Row Wampum and Treaty 13. All these treaties remain legally binding. The Dish with One Spoon, in particular, directs all people living on this land to share its resources in the spirit of mutual co-operation. Evicting people from encampments violates the terms of this treaty; it also specifically targets Indigenous peoples, who are overrepresented among those living outside due to ongoing colonial violence. At this time, more than one in three encampment residents are Indigenous.
The City’s “Pathways Inside Program (PIP)” and shelter-hotel system have promised safety, security, and long-term support, yet encampment residents, outreach workers and community activists have repeatedly highlighted their ongoing failure to provide such resources. In reality, PIP is often a way to clear the parks and force people into inadequate, isolated, and unsafe temporary spaces, far from their communities.
For all these reasons and many others, we are calling on City Council and the City of Toronto to respect and carry out the demands set by encampment residents themselves: an immediate end to all threats of eviction; access to running water, washrooms, electricity, and other basic human rights; an immediate end to the removal and destruction of peoples’ property; and meaningful long-term solutions to the housing crisis.
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On behalf of OPSEU Local 556
Tom Tomassi, President
OPSEU Local 556