The City of Toronto has finally committed to enforceable physical distancing standards across its shelter system that will protect the lives of Toronto’s most vulnerable population during this pandemic crisis. Last month, a coalition of frontline homelessness service providers and human rights groups filed a lawsuit against the City and the Province of Ontario for failing to urgently protect the lives of those experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. The coalition is pleased to announce that an interim agreement has been reached with the City that will protect the lives of shelter residents but also the health of shelter employees and the public at large.
“Regrettably, The City’s commitment comes only after the tragic and preventable deaths of two shelter residents, and over 300 COVID-19 cases in at least 21 sites,” says Jessica Orkin, a lawyer at Goldblatt Partners representing the coalition. “Ten weeks into the COVID-10 pandemic, the City has finally committed to ensure that Toronto shelters meet minimal public health standards for physical distancing. The coalition will remain vigilant to ensure that the City complies with its obligations under this agreement and is prepared to take further legal steps, if necessary, to ensure that people experiencing homelessness are supported during this pandemic.”
The agreement will bring a measure of accountability and public transparency that has been lacking in the City’s approach to dealing with the pandemic crisis within the shelter system. The City is now required to provide regular, detailed reports about its efforts and progress in achieving and sustaining physical distancing standards that will surely save lives.
The terms of the agreement are as follows:
1. The City is required to use best efforts to “achieve without delay and thereafter sustain” 2 metres between beds and end the use of bunk beds across the City’s shelters, respites, and overnight drop-ins.
2. The City is required to provide shelter to all shelter system clients by making available such beds as is necessary to achieve physical distancing standards across the shelter system.
3. All individuals who received any support services from the City’s shelter system since March 11, including those now in encampments who left the shelter system because of fears of COVID-19, are included within the scope of the City’s obligations under the settlement.
4. The City will report regularly on its progress until it reaches and sustains compliance for 2 months.
The agreement was reached between the parties last Friday and was formalized this morning. A copy of the public summary of the agreement is available here . In exchange for the City’s commitments as contained in the agreement, the coalition agreed to adjourn its injunction motion, which had been scheduled to be heard by Justice Lorne Sossin of the Superior Court of Justice on June 8, 2020.