City agrees to physical distancing standards in shelter system

A coalition of frontline service providers had filed suit against the city and the province alleging a failure to protect the lives of those experiencing homelessness

The City of Toronto has committed to physical distancing standards across its shelter system after the deaths of two shelter residents and more than 300 COVID-19 cases at some 21 sites.

A coalition of frontline service providers had filed a lawsuit against the city and the Province of Ontario last month alleging a failure to protect the lives of those experiencing homelessness during the pandemic.

The agreement, which was reached last Friday and will be formalized this morning (Tuesday, May 19), comes just before an injunction motion claiming a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code was scheduled to be heard in the Superior Court of Justice on June 8.

The coalition, which includes Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto, Aboriginal Legal Services, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario, among others, says in a statement that the agreement “will bring a measure of accountability and public transparency that has been sorely lacking in the City’s approach to dealing with the pandemic crisis within the shelter system.”

Under the agreement, the city will be required to provide “regular, detailed reports” on its efforts to achieve and maintain physical distancing standards in the shelter system until it reaches and sustains compliance for a two-month period. 

The terms include a requirement that the city makes “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.”

The city is also required “to provide shelter to all shelter system clients by making available such beds as is necessary to achieve physical distancing.”

The agreement includes “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.”

Says Greg Cook, an outreach worker at Sanctuary: “The City’s 10-week delay in implementing these measures has been disastrous and led to hundreds of COVID-19 cases and hundreds more forced to sleep outside in an effort to protect their health.”


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