For the past 14 weeks, Encampment Support Network (ESN) has been delivering water, tents, hot meals and more to the people living in encampments throughout Toronto. ESN is an ad-hoc, volunteer-run network of neighbours that builds community and advocate for better conditions in encampments and long term housing in the city. With cold weather around the corner, the group is ramping up their efforts to keep their neighbours safe. They’re organizing the Meal and March for Housing happening this Wednesday, Sept. 23 at 5 p.m. at Moss Park.
“There’s going to be food, speeches, sign making – not just all doom and gloom. We need to put pressure on the city to act and we need to do something very loudly in order to get their attention,” says Marianna Reis, a volunteer with the ESN committee in Parkdale.
Amidst so much uncertainty, the work of volunteers like Reis demonstrate the true spirit and power of community. ESN hopes to see a similar commitment coming from the City of Toronto.
“They [city councillors] think providing aid entrenches the encampments. What actually entrenches encampments is the housing crisis and the lack of affordable housing in the city.” Reis said.
Encampments are not new to Toronto but they carry a different meaning as the city navigates the COVID-19 pandemic. When the messaging around COVID-19 prevention became “stay at home” and “keep physical distance,” more people began pitching tents.
“The city would like to frame it as an issue of people’s individual behaviours and problems but the encampments are a direct result of the housing crisis and of the pandemic… [the physical distancing guidelines] really exacerbated it by shrinking the number of shelter beds across Toronto,” Reis adds.
On top of delivering supplies daily, the group has been tapping into their talents to spread awareness however they can. They recently launched their podcast, “We Are Not The Virus” on Spotify and Apple Podcasts as an avenue for residents of encampments to share their stories directly with the world. Reis notes that these projects clear up misconceptions and problematic narratives around homelessness – many of them put the blame on residents of encampments rather than government bodies.
To learn more about ESN, listen to the interview with Marianna Reis below.
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