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Coronavirus: Advocates threaten legal action if Toronto doesn’t step up aide for homeless population

Coronavirus: Toronto provides more details on COVID-19 response for homeless
WATCH ABOVE (April 21):Providing an update on its response for people experiencing homelessness, the city says an interim recovery location for those who test positive will open Tuesday. But concerns remain high for the population, which could be hit hard by the effects of COVID-19. Matthew Bingley reports.

A coalition is threatening legal action against the City of Toronto for its “failure to support the homeless population” amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

The coalition, consisting of housing and human rights advocates, are asking the city to take “immediate” steps to update its Shelter and Respite Standards and provide housing for those experiencing homelessness in Toronto.

In a press release issued Tuesday, the coalition said it has “made the difficult decision to initiate legal proceedings” if the City doesn’t act, adding a “mass outbreak” of COVID-19 in Toronto is “inevitable” if not action is taken.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Toronto officials call for provincial pandemic plan for shelters to avoid ‘mass outbreaks’

As of Monday, there were over 110 confirmed cases of coronavirus among people experiencing homelessness in 11 shelters and respite centres across the city.

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Issues surrounding the vulnerable population include, lack of social distancing within shelters and centres, as well as a lack of beds and space in general for all of those in need.

The coalition said that while the numbers are growing, the majority of the 1,200 hotel rooms that the City leased remain empty.

Homeless Toronto man’s plea for help amid coronavirus pandemic
Homeless Toronto man’s plea for help amid coronavirus pandemic

“The failure to immediately facilitate social distancing in existing City shelters and respite centres, and urgent action to house is a breach of the constitutional rights of those who are precariously housed,” the statement read.

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“It disproportionately impacts the lives of Black and Indigenous residents, as well as people living with disabilities, who are overrepresented in Toronto’s homeless population.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Toronto’s homeless COVID-19 patients sent to hospital due to lack of recovery site

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The City has also been criticized about its lack of urgency when it comes to moving people out of shelters and centres.

The coalition group includes:

  • Aboriginal Legal Services (ALS)
  • Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO)
  • Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC)
  • Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA)
  • Cathy Crowe
  • HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario (HALCO)

Advocates call on Ontario government for provincial plan

Earlier in the week, local advocates, as well as coun. Joe Cressy, who is the chair of the Toronto Board of Health, called on the Ford government to help with a provincial plan to prevent outbreaks from taking place in the vulnerable population.

When asked about the idea, a statement from Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark’s director of communications said the Ontario government has provided an additional $200 million in social services relief funding aimed at protecting vulnerable people from COVID-19.

It did not, however acknowledge calls for regional coordination on the shelter system, aside from updated guidelines to minimize transmission among those experiencing homelessness. It also said prioritized testing for those in shelters, will help identify and contain cases of COVID-19 among vulnerable populations.

As of Tuesday morning, Ontario reported 11,735 cases of coronavirus and 622 deaths.

With files from Matthew Bingley

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