One to two thousand people sleep rough in Toronto every night; meaning they are living outdoors under bridges, in tents, and makeshift shelters. With the COVID-19 pandemic encampments began to spring up in parks throughout the city. With restrictions in place for months at a time, the availability of indoor spaces was drastically reduced forcing unhoused people to stay outside for longer periods of time. This made it even more difficult to access facilities such as washrooms, healthcare, and other basic needs.
Several encampments were regularly visited in 2020 and 2021 in order to gain a deeper understanding of the people experiencing homelessness in Toronto. A man known as Georgia, who was living at an encampment near Toronto’s waterfront, became a vocal point in the photographs. After a fire engulfed and destroyed Georgia’s encampment, and resulted in him being hospitalized, Georgia eventually moved to Trinity Bellwoods Park in the hip and popular West Queen West neighbourhood.
Georgia provided insight into the realities of homelessness and survival in the urban outdoors. The photographs shed light on the daily life and survival in the encampments, focusing on Georgia and Trinity Bellwoods Park. They provide glimpses of the lives lived and the environments around them; whether the viewer is looking at Clancy examining items under the bridge at The Bentway, Georgia rising out from a dumpster behind a grocery store, City of Toronto workers clearing an abandoned encampment at Trinity Bellwoods Park, or Kenny on his way back to the park after panhandling.
As the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on so did the realities of living without housing in unsanctioned encampments in public parks. People came and went; some were banished by residents of encampments and found other places to sleep, others were put up in hotels by the city. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the severity of homelessness. The need for affordable and supportive housing has never been more evident.