Today, Toronto city council approved an expedited plan to build a new 250-unit modular housing project for people experiencing homelessness.

To be constructed on city-owned land, the first phase of the project will include 110 pre-fabricated units expected to be ready for occupancy by September 2020 and another 140 units by April 2021. The plan passed 23-1, with only councillor Stephen Holyday opposed.

A city report cites the current COVID crisis as part of the impetus for the project. “Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Toronto was already experiencing an unprecedented demand for homeless services due to various factors including a lack of affordable housing options in the city,” the report says. “Despite adding 3,000 shelter spaces since 2015, shelter occupancy remains at capacity with over 8,000 shelter users each night.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an outsized effect on Toronto’s homeless, placing an already stretched shelter system under enormous pressure as it attempts to implement social distancing measures. Out of a population of 8,000 people accessing the shelter system, between 2,000 and 3,000 people needed to be relocated in order to assure their health. City staff have found additional spaces through a combination of hotels, community spaces and vacant apartments. As of May 5, 1600 individuals had been moved from the shelter system to these safer spaces.

While the City has been working on the challenge, more homeless people have resorted to living in tents in public parks and other spaces. In the Village, the largest encampments have been in Barbara Hall Park and George Hislop Park.

While in normal times individuals would not be allowed to set up camp in city parks, these are far from normal times. The City has placed a moratorium on encampment evictions for the duration of the COVID-19 epidemic — though it is now making some exemptions.

Edmonton has halted the removal of homeless camps on public land during the COVID-19 pandemic, citing safety reasons.

The city’s encampment response team has “paused” enforcement operations, meaning they are no longer giving occupants of camps on public land notice to vacate, city spokeswoman Adrienne Cloutier said Thursday.

“In light of COVID, we’re not telling anyone they have to pack up and move along,” she said. “On the contrary, we’re pausing any type of suggestion they need to move along. Rather, we’re doing … welfare checks to make sure they’re OK.”

As of April, there were 1,845 people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton, according to non-profit agency Homeward Trust.

On Monday, a brother and sister watched as the makeshift shelters they were living in were dismantled and their community ordered to disperse.

The siblings had been part of a group who’d set up camp on private property in Hamilton, Ont., before the owner ultimately decided he wanted them out.

Now, they were trying to figure out where to sleep.

The B.C. government’s announcement that more than 600 spaces in hotel rooms and community centres have been secured for homeless people in Vancouver have brought with it a call for further action.

Namely, that it shouldn’t just temporarily take over underused hotels, but outright purchase some of them for low-income residents.

“We need to develop as a province an acquisition strategy to buy the hotels,” said Jill Atkey, president of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association.

Atkey believes the province should look both at hotels and other aging purpose-built rental stock as opportunities to dramatically increase the amount of shelter-rate housing available.

The municipality now has a temporary shelter location to help the homeless self-isolate during COVID-19.

The employment and social services department opened the doors to the facility Wednesday morning at the municipally owned John D. Bradley Convention Centre at 565 Richmond St. in Chatham.

Over the past month, the need for a shelter has increased significantly due to individuals who were previously “couch surfing” being forced into homelessness during the pandemic.

“Our department has already assisted 50 individuals with emergency accommodations this month so far,” said Polly Smith, director of employment and social services, in a release. “In March alone, the number of requests for emergency housing increased by nearly 45 per cent.

As many hotels across the nation’s capital sit empty, some are seeing an opportunity to both protect the city’s vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic and address long-term homelessness concerns in Ottawa.

Advocates working to promote affordable housing in Ottawa are teaming up with the city’s emergency shelters for the #Hotels2Homes campaign, a push for the city to purchase hotels or motels as multi-unit housing options to protect Ottawa’s homeless and vulnerable populations during the pandemic.