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.
Photojournalist Nick Kozak began photographing stories around homelessness in 2020, and regularly visited several encampments in late 2020 and throughout 2021, as he sought to gain a deeper understanding of the people experiencing homelessness in his community.
The images here are organized chronologically starting in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. In late 2020 a man known as Georgia, who was living at an encampment near Toronto’s waterfront, became a vocal point in Nick’s photographs. After a fire engulfed and destroyed Georgia’s encampment, and resulted in him being hospitalized, Georgia eventually moved to Trinity Bellwoods Park. Georgia introduced Nick to friends living around him. He 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. They provide glimpses of the lives lived and the environments around them.
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. In the summer of 2021 City of Toronto mandated evictions of encampments led to clashes between encampment residents, and their supporters, and the Toronto Police Services. Trinity Bellwoods Park and Alexandra Park were cleared of all encampments. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the severity of homelessness. The need for affordable and supportive housing has never been more evident yet the complexities around homelessness continue to confound a city that ought to have the resources to do something about it.