It’s camping season in Canada — but not in the usual sense. From Penticton to Prince Edward Island, urban landscapes have become dotted with tent cities. Homeless encampments have been “visibly rising” according to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Statistics Canada reports that on a given night, 25,000 to 35,000 people may be experiencing homelessness, and more than 235,000 people are homeless during a given year. According to a report by the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate, at least one encampment has been set up in a majority of Canada’s 25 largest municipalities since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020.
Municipalities have varied in their approach. In April 2023, the city of Vancouver removed hundreds of tents from East Hastings Street — for the tenth time in as many years. Montreal routinely clears out encampments; Mayor Valerie Plante says they will not be tolerated, while calling for greater provincial spending on social housing. In Charlottetown, city officials have formed a “response team” to “address” encampments; one was dismantled in January after a fire.
In Toronto, in contrast, tents in downtown Allan Gardens Park have not been torn down. The encampment now spans the entire park and features a giant teepee and city-funded portable toilets. Tent dwellers have set up barbeques, portable stoves, laundry lines, and all manner of equipment. There is garbage strewn everywhere. Apart from tent dwellers, no one else can use the space.