The City of Toronto has given residents of tent cities 14 days to vacate their makeshift communities.

The camps are predominately located under the Gardiner Expressway, from Spadina Avenue to Lower Sherbourne Street, where people seek shelter from the cold.

The city says these structures are a problem, noting that, in some cases, propane heaters are used to keep warm.

“We have a public safety issue and a public health issue frankly that the City of Toronto needs to enforce its bylaws. You can’t camp in a park, you can’t camp on the street, you can’t have structures on the street,” Brad Ross, the city’s chief communications officer, said.

“So we have given people in these structures 14 days’ notice. That’s what the bylaw requires to relocate or, in other words, pack up their belongings.”

The eviction notice comes as the city’s shelter system struggles to meet demand.

According to the City of Toronto’s latest data, dated January 14, shelters are at 93 per cent capacity.

With dangerously cold temperatures on the horizon, advocates are concerned the emergency shelters and centres won’t be able to take in those who vacate tent cities and don’t have alternative housing to use as refuge from the cold.

They say the camps are a direct result of a lack of adequate shelter space in the city.

“We believe everyone is in agreement that these respite programs are not a permanent solution to the homelessness issue,” St. Felix Centre spokesperson Enrique Cochegrus wrote in a statement.

“Permanent, supportive, affordable housing is what everyone agrees would be best.”

Recently, in the wake of a homeless woman’s death, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty slammed the city for overcapacity, “under-resourced, de-factor shelters.” The coalition called on the city to open more shelters, add 2,000 emergency shelter beds and fund harm reduction and overdose prevention programs and services.

Terrence Campos is one of about a dozen people living in tents underneath the Gardiner.

Using blankets and a small propane heater, he’s endured the elements for the past three years.

“Some people are uncomfortable with it I think,” he said. “My opinion on housing and stuff like that… Everybody deserves a place.”

Some residents of tent cities said they have no plans to leave, noting that they feel safer in the makeshift communities than at city-run shelters.

“Shelters are supposed to be a safe environment, which it’s not,” Paul, who didn’t provide his last name, said.

“You can go into a room with seven guys… It’s a free for all. There are no cameras in the rooms.”

The city, however, is confident the system will pull through for those being evicted.

“We have staff who are out there every day talking with these individuals saying, ‘look we have supports, we have systems in place to help you get off the street if you would like to avail yourself of those supports,’” Ross said.

“If you don’t, that’s fine, those are your choices, but you can’t erect tents on sidewalks. You can’t.”

The city began issuing the notices last week. Ross said there was no exact timeline on when they will approach the tents and ask residents to leave. It’s unclear whether police would be involved at that point.

“This is a long established city policy,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said.

“It was put together in a way that, I think, is more compassionate than many citizens would have it when they write to us and say, ‘Clear those out.’”

With files from CTV News Toronto's John Musselman