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Advocacy groups call on Toronto for full moratorium on unhoused evictions

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An advocacy group is calling on the mayor and city council to vote in favour of a full moratorium on evictions and address "service restrictions" practices across the entire shelter system.

Voices for Unhouse Liberation wrote an open letter outlining demands, including investment in more indoor space and starting an accountability process, including people in Toronto's homeless population and advocates.

"With over 500 signatures of people from all across the city, educators, health care providers, community residents who support the call for a moratorium on all evictions during the winter time," said Susan Bender with Voices for Unhoused Liberation.

The announcement occurred outside St. Stephen-in-the-Fields church, where part of an encampment in its yard was evicted last month. Now, that portion is surrounded by fences, and inside, it's filled with concrete blocks.

"For about two years, we were supporting an encampment here," said Reverend Maggie Helwig, "there were people in the encampment who had been rent evicted from private housing. There were people who had been evicted from city-run, affordable and supportive housing. There were people who had been repeatedly evicted from shelter hotels. There were people who had been restricted from every shelter in this city."

The advocates say shelter spaces are only being made available to encampment residents by evicting shelter residents from their beds.

"We have families with children who are just struggling, struggling to hold on to their apartments," said Gaetan Heroux, 230 Fightback. "By the time people get to an encampment and by the time you get to Seaton house, something has happened."

CTV News asked Mayor Olivia Chow if she would support a full moratorium on evictions during a news conference.

"I cannot predict what staff may or may not do," she said, "the city staff have been bringing people in a voluntary way to come indoors because [it is] getting much colder, and occasionally, if there are propane tanks, etc., it can become dangerous."

There have been several encampment fires in the city this year.

Last week, a woman was burned when her woodstove caught fire in the Fort York area. Days before that, numerous tents caught fire at Bellevue Park, and in September, a person died after their mattress caught fire under a bridge in North York.

"Are we forcing people out of tents into places they don't want to go? No," said Chow. "However, in cases where there might be a danger, then perhaps the negotiation might be more intense."

The mayor added that more than 2000 people are going to be moving out of the shelter system into permanent housing "soon," which will make space in a system that's at capacity. She added that to get more space, the municipality still needs the federal government to step up with funding to deal with the refugee crisis.

Voices for Unhoused Liberation wants to see councillors vote in favour of their moratorium at city council's final meeting of the year, next week.  

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