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Living in encampments is more than just a pandemic issue, researchers find

HEALTHY DEBATE

By Zoë Dodd, Samantha Young, Lisa Boucher, Abeera Shahid, Melanie Brown, Kimia Khoee, and Ahmed Bayoumi

While people have been living in encampments for decades, they have never been as visible as during the COVID-19 pandemic. The City of Toronto has also been dismantling encampments for a long time – more than 700 were dismantled in 2019 – but never as forcefully as this year. Yet, in all of the discussions about how politicians, police and city workers should respond to encampments, there has been little effort to understand why encampments exist and what they mean to people living in them.

As researchers at MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at Unity Health Toronto, we have been studying outreach services provided to people who live in encampments. As part of a large study of the effects of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic on people experiencing marginalization, we surveyed 127 residents of Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods, Alexandra Park, Lamport Stadium, Moss Park, Cherry Beach and Sanctuary encampments between March and June 2021 (and before the most recent evictions in July 2021). While our full report will be released in October, we believe it pertinent to release these preliminary findings to add to the current conversation on encampment evictions.

Overall, our findings suggest that the story of encampments is complex. Five results of our survey are especially important and may contradict commonly held assumptions.

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