Region finally addresses explosion of encampments across Peel

Region finally addresses explosion of encampments across Peel

Correction: A previous version of the article did not include updated funding figures from the federal government through its Interim Housing Assistance Program (IHAP). Ottawa told The Pointer in April that an additional $12.4 million would be reimbursed to the Region of Peel for shelter costs in 2023, bringing the total to $22.4 million, or 95 percent of the Region's additional shelter costs due to the use of overflow hotels last year. 


In 2022, the Region of Peel reported 125 known encampments. In 2023, the number jumped to 258 (all but three were in Mississauga and Brampton), a disturbing illustration of how bad the affordable housing crisis has become.

Peel’s shelter system is operating at nearly 350 percent capacity. There are now 11 hotels and motels being used to handle the overflow.

Staff now estimate that $68 million, at a minimum, will be needed this year to fund adequate overflow emergency shelter space, after elected officials only budgeted $4 million for hotel space at the start of last year despite the final tab for 2023 coming in at just under $27 million. Council members failed to comprehend the crisis at their doorstep.

The waitlist for housing assistance has been another sign of neglect by regional councillors. In 2019, the number of households waiting for assistance sat at 14,997. By the end of 2021, the number had nearly doubled to 28,227, a staggering 88 percent increase in just two years. The figure did not go up significantly the following year, but regional staff said they did not have updated numbers at the end of 2022. It’s unclear how many people are currently on the Region’s affordable housing waitlist, as metrics used to gauge the crisis constantly change. 

Staff and elected officials at the Region are now acknowledging the shortcomings of the current response, as the scramble to put more and more people in hotels while trying to find more emergency shelter space does nothing to address the root causes of the crisis. 

A report to regional council on May 23 acknowledged that, “Investing in emergency responses helps to meet basic needs and provide crisis response and supports to people experiencing homelessness,” but “to end chronic homelessness, additional and larger investments in homelessness prevention and permanent housing solutions are required.” 

It continued: “For the foreseeable future, the Region will not be able to find or provide enough suitable affordable and/or supportive housing solutions for all unhoused people in Peel.” It is essential for the upper-tier municipality to work with the provincial and federal governments “to develop and implement proactive solutions to the housing and homelessness crisis.”

The Region is not in a position to provide suitable, affordable housing for everybody. Peel staff have estimated the number of people living in core housing need, meaning they are at risk of losing their current home due to costs, is well beyond 90,000 — about three percent are getting help from the Region. 


At least 80 percent of Peel residents in 2020 could not afford ownership or rental prices in the region.

(Region of Peel) 


Staff are instead working on policies to help those impacted most severely. The need to keep them safe is a major concern, with the City of Brampton recently reporting that the Calvert Park area where one encampment along Etobicoke Creek is located has seen 27 fires with 5 of them leading to fire spread situations.

Residents have voiced concerns that instead of a humane response that respects the rights of individuals, local officials in Brampton have taken extreme measures due to a crisis they ignored for years. 

“Like many communities in Ontario and in Canada, the number of homeless encampments in Peel Region has significantly increased year-over-year,” the staff report to council highlighted. “This is due in part to the housing affordability crisis, insufficient supportive housing, a surge in the number of asylum claimants seeking services in Peel, and other pressures in Peel’s emergency shelter system.”

The lack of attention was tragically highlighted by two deaths outside Mississauga’s Dundas Shelter in three months, as people waited in tents outside. 


The encampment outside the Dundas Shelter in Mississauga, where a man died over the winter while waiting for a space.



“Encampment residents are also experiencing incredible barriers to finding and securing safe, affordable, and appropriate housing options, particularly in the communities of their choice,” the report pointed out, while also recognizing that “Views on homeless encampments can be polarizing and divisive.” The number of individuals living in encampments in Peel is expected to continue increasing, staff reported. 

An October report to the Region indicated more investment is needed in homelessness prevention, emergency response, and supportive housing to end chronic homelessness. It highlighted the need for a council-endorsed policy to better manage the growing number of encampments in Peel.

In February, the Region released a report acknowledging that relying on funding from Ottawa for refugees and asylum seekers, who currently make up the majority of those in Peel needing emergency shelter, is not sustainable.

“The Region has submitted a claim to the federal government’s Interim Housing Assistance Program (IHAP) for incurred costs, but this approach is not cost-effective nor viable over the long-term.”

The Region reported that it was “shifting to a new, more sustainable model for supporting asylum claimants in Peel.” Dedicated Temporary Shelter Facilities addressing the unique needs of asylum claimants would be opened on top of the dorm-style temporary shelter site specifically for asylum claimants which began welcoming individuals and families in December. 

The overflow hotel budget has increased to nearly 20 times what it was just five years ago — far beyond what the Region can bear, and has forced Peel to create an encampment policy staff say “will incorporate a human rights-based approach” to address the severity of the issue. 



The Region of Peel has for years placed people in hotels as shelters have chronically been over capacity.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer files) 


The encampment policy and protocols will be one part of how the Region changes services for those experiencing homelessness in Peel. Other measures, staff noted, include enhancing and expanding Peel’s shelter system, re-designing the Region’s outreach program, implementing an integrated model of health care services, providing more drop-in supports in known hotspots and improving access to housing subsidies and supports. 

The specifics remain unclear. Staff said the encampment policy and protocols will be brought back for council approval in the fall. Meanwhile the summer months are expected to cause a number of challenges, as the number of encampments typically swells, during the season that now brings risks such as extreme heat and the possibility of smoke from wildfires. 

According to a report by the National Institute of Health, “[the] lack of shelter increases the exposure of people experiencing rough sleeping to adverse weather, putting them at significant risk of heat-related illness during heatwaves.”

“People experiencing rough sleeping are at significantly higher risk of heat-related morbidity and mortality than the general population due to distinct patterns of heat exposure and pre-existing vulnerabilities.”

The Region’s report referenced interim measures during the spring, summer and fall months to address encampments along Etobicoke Creek Trail in Brampton and at Dundas Street Shelter in Mississauga where the Region has reported large numbers of people sleeping in tents. The Pointer tried to get more details on what those interim measures would look like at these locations but none were provided. A spokesperson from Peel did write in an email that the Region has brought on additional hotel rooms to offer to those currently residing in encampments.

Until the policy and joint protocols are complete, the Region is using several measures to support those staying in encampments: Diverting asylum claimants to designated emergency shelter locations; an expansion to the Welcoming Streets program to support businesses surrounding Calvert Park in Brampton; enhancing the current Peel Outreach Program; and creating a place-based outreach team for Mississauga to support residents and businesses in Cooksville and Port Credit.  

This also includes following Peel’s shelter admission standards that were initiated after the Region’s “no turn away policy” had to be abandoned due to a lack of space. The report also stressed the Region is “working hard to place clients experiencing homelessness into hotels when emergency shelters are full wherever possible.” The Region’s new dormitory-style shelter reduces the reliance on overflow hotels and frees up spaces in the shelter system. Peel opened it specifically for asylum claimants in December and it is operating on a “day to day vacancy” basis with 228 additional beds. The site provides short-term accommodations, settlement supports and other services on-site. It was reported by staff in January that the facility was already operating at 100 percent occupancy. A March staff report highlighted plans were underway to expand the facility to accommodate an additional 80 people. 


A hotel where asylum claimants in Peel have been housed. In December a dorm-style shelter facility was opened for them.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer files) 


But these are Band-Aid measures.

Staff need “more coordinated and timely service provision for people living in encampments to reduce the precariousness of their living conditions.” Asked what other services are being provided by the Region to those currently residing in encampments, the spokesperson said, “Peel Region, through our outreach program and housing support workers, support encampment residents by offering emergency shelter, blankets, tents, shoes and clothing, meeting basic needs for water and food, harm reduction supplies and providing referrals to essential services and housing.” 

The first public engagement workshop was held in downtown Brampton on May 9 for residents concerned about the increasing number of homeless encampments across the city, after Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown and Councillor Rowena Santos presented a motion that alienated many experiencing homelessness. Staff are also organizing additional workshops in Malton, Cooksville, Port Credit, and Meadowvale to be completed by the end of June.

The Region did a study in March and proposed a more sustainable, “person-centred” service model to accommodate the increasing number of asylum seekers looking for help through its already strained emergency shelter system. Staff initiated the development of a new model built around two main components that include the establishment of a permanent Regional Reception Centre near Pearson International Airport, with connections to other municipalities, and the creation of more dedicated shelter facilities specifically for asylum claimants.  

The Region’s plan was criticized for its dependence on funding from the provincial and federal governments. The proposed funding model was based on the belief that such supports “are the shared responsibility of the federal and provincial governments.” 

“If Peel does not receive the appropriate level of funding from the federal and provincial governments, Peel may need to limit its response, which could result in more street homelessness and encampments, and negatively impact or stall an asylum claimant’s settlement journey,” staff reported. The Region called on upper levels of government to provide 100 percent of the funding for the new programs. 

Ottawa has already committed $7 million for the Pearson Airport reception centre, and as of April the federal government told The Pointer it would be providing almost all of Peel's costs for overflow hotels in 2023 ($22.4 million of $26.9 million). That cost is expected to balloon to $68 million this year, compared to the $4 million that was vastly under budgeted for overflow hotels last year and just $2.5 million that was spent five years ago, underscoring how quickly the crisis has grown. 

The Region did not specify how its new encampment policy will be funded. 



Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @mcpaigepeacock 

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