By Daphna Nussbaum, Peel Alliance to End Homelessness
In recent years, there has been a growing number of encampments in Peel Region. Although they vary in size and structure, the term ‘encampment’ is used to describe any location where an individual or a group of people experiencing homelessness live together, usually in tents or other temporary structures.
This rise in the number of encampments in Peel is due to several factors, including a lack of affordable housing, emergency shelter overflows and overcrowding, and limited options for people who do not wish to stay in emergency shelters. The end of the provincial government’s pandemic Social Service Relief emergency funding in May 2022 also contributed to the growth in the number of encampment residents, as people who were previously accommodated in hotel or motel rooms and housing units through that funding were left with few options but to return to encampments.
Peel Poverty Action Group (PPAG), a community grassroots group advocating for issues surrounding poverty and homelessness in Peel Region, commissioned a needs-based assessment in the winter of 2022, to address the growth in encampments in the community. Community partners that assisted in this endeavour included Peel Alliance to End Homelessness, CMHA Peel Dufferin, Moyo Health and Community Services, Wellfort Community Health Services and Regeneration.
The study and report highlighted the needs of those who were living in encampments and living rough throughout Peel including Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon. The report, written by Hub Solutions, a social enterprise of the Canadian Observatory of Homelessness, reflected the sentiments of 179 individuals who were struggling to survive outside, primarily in conditions that are not fit for human habitation.
The report was presented to municipal government representatives including councillors and mayors for Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon on March 23, 2023, at the Peel Regional Council.
Peel Region community members and advocates Michelle Bilek, Catherine Soplet and Sara Pinto, the latter, who spoke about her own lived experience, delegated before council on the need for more community collaboration, a Housing First approach to ending homelessness and the need to address gaps within the system.
A presentation of the Encampment study report by Anika Shama, Senior Research and Evaluation Coordinator with Hub Solutions, highlighted some of the key demographics of the population surveyed. The majority of participants identified as men (72%), while approximately 30% of all participants were between 35 and 44 years old. The largest proportion of women were between the ages of 25 to 44 (32%), while the largest proportion of men were over the age of 55 (16%).
This study determined that the main causes of homelessness included housing unaffordability (42%), housing eviction due to conflict with family or friends (26%) and physical, mental and substance use challenges, often in combination (42%).
Geographically, over half the participants (54%) were situated in Brampton, followed by Mississauga (35%) and Malton (4%). A significant number of respondents had spent their nights in multiple locations, which often changed over time and included parks, streets and alleyways, staircases, storefronts, rooftops, forests, buses and train stations, parking lots, under bridges and campsite tents.
When asked what they needed to live, three-quarters (73%) of the 179 respondents identified the need for a safe place to stay and spend the night. Encampment residents also mentioned the need to access to a safe structure and essentials such as food, warm clothing to survive winter, washrooms, showers, hygiene products, heating, and medication. Participants also cited the need for affordable housing options, financial stability, wrap-around care, and advocacy as some of the core supports needed to obtain and maintain permanent housing.
The report also offered recommendations that could systematically address the needs of those living outdoors. One of these recommendations was to invest in Housing First programs and review of emergency shelter policies in Peel, as well as service provision based on age, gender and cultural needs. The report was shared with the Federal Housing Advocate’s Office, who is currently conducting a review on encampments across Canada.
It is important to highlight that this research was conducted to describe the perspectives of encampment residents only. The report does not include a scientific and evidence-based literature review. However, the research gives stakeholders, service providers and policymakers an overview of where the specific population stands and provides suggestions and recommendations to address their existing and emerging needs.
April 12, 2023