The TTC has seen a steep decline in ridership since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, but there continues to be a high demand for housing.
“The last few weekends on the Queen Streetcar people who are under-housed have taken a lot belongings onto the streetcar and set them up,” said TTC spokesperson Stuart Green, who became aware of the latest incident after photos were posted to Twitter showing clothes hanging from railings and thrown onto the seats of a streetcar.
“We’ve seen during pandemic more people reporting cases like this on all modes, not just streetcar, but subway and bus as well.”
He said while the transit agency is sympathetic to people who need shelter, a moving vehicle isn’t the proper place.
Oftentimes, people are setting up a temporary shelter space in the areas blocked off to ensure social distancing, which raises further concerns for TTC officials.
“We’re trying to get people to maintain as much distance on public transit as possible. When you have someone who’s taking up a lot of space, it really minimizes space for others to distance,” explained Green.
To address this issue, he said the TTC works closely with City of Toronto services to help find safe and appropriate shelter. Green said those services include Streets to Homes as well as the United Way and other organizations that give people support with not only housing but mental health and addictions too.
“Our approach is to be compassionate and caring. We get our community engagement unit involved… and then we can find those people the proper support and shelter they need, not on a streetcar,” he said.
Homeless advocates point to this issue of people setting up shelter space on transit as a symptom of a much larger, underlying problem – a lack of affordable housing in Toronto. Keith Hambly is the CEO of Fred Victor, a charitable organization that offers programs and services to those experiencing homelessness.
“There’s an absolute need to get people housed, and housed quickly,” said Hambly, adding he has heard from front-line workers that people are a bit fearful of going into a congregate setting like a shelter more than ever due to COVID-19.
Hambly said he believes there needs to be a better-coordinated effort between the different organizations and supports to work towards a housing solution for individuals.
“What are the creative solutions that we can all work together on to provide a good support whether it’s mental health support, food security support, and a safe environment,” said Hambly.
He encouraged people to contact their local city councillor to push for increase housing and if or when housing comes into a neighbourhood to be welcoming.
“We all want healthy neighbourhoods and healthy outcomes for every citizen of the city of Toronto and I think welcoming individuals who are in need to your neighbourhood is a vitally important piece to building community,” said Hambly.
People can also reach out to agencies like Fred Victor, which has lots of opportunities to volunteer and help others.