Park People “Homelessness in Parks”


Park People is a national charity that helps people activate the power of parks to improve quality of life in Canadian cities.

Through a survey of 27 municipalities across Canada we conducted last year as part of our Canadian City Parks Report (, Park People learned that homelessness is a top challenge facing parks departments across the country. However, few municipalities were able to point to examples of inclusive policies or programs they have in place that go beyond displacement-oriented practices of encampment monitoring and clearing.

Our research also found that defensive design—a strategy that serves to deter and displace people experiencing homelessness from using parks—is prevalent across Canada. Defined by scholar Cara Chellew as “an intentional design strategy used to guide or restrict people’s behaviour in public space as a means of crime prevention or order maintenance”, defensive design can take many forms. Benches with a third armrest in the middle, pavilions with slotted roofs that fail to shelter from the elements, or “ghost amenities”—the absence of necessary structures like washrooms or seating to deter “loitering” from park users deemed undesirable—are all commonplace in city parks across the country. These features not only exclude people experiencing homelessness, but also make parks less hospitable for other vulnerable park users like seniors and those with chronic health conditions.

In response to a need for more inclusive approaches to homelessness in parks, we released research exploring Canadian case studies of leading practices for park 

programming and engagement with unhoused communities ( With the help of U of T students, we would like to build on this work by developing park design guidelines and models that support the dignity and wellbeing of people experiencing homelessness in Canadian city parks.



Project Description

With the homelessness crisis accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is both an urgent need and opportunity to put forth new approaches to ensure our parks and public spaces are inclusive and supportive for those relying on them the most.

Through this project, students would creatively challenge the status quo of defensive design in parks through showcasing inclusive design alternatives. The project presents an opportunity for students to learn from Park People researchers about homelessness and public space, practice creative and critical thinking, bring a theoretical lens to practical design applications, and make a meaningful contribution towards more equitable city parks in Canada.

The students’ design work, alongside Park People’s existing research and resources on park programming and engagement for people experiencing homelessness, would contribute to a practical toolkit to guide municipalities, landscape architects, urbanists, and park professionals in building more inclusive parks.

We'd envision the process in 3 steps:  

  1. Students conduct secondary research (mainly reviewing the work Park People has already done as well as reviewing ethics literature on working with vulnerable populations) to familiarize themselves with the topic,
  2. Students conduct primary research involving folks with lived experience of homelessness, and
  3. Students prepare a final deliverable of design guidelines and prototypes for inclusive park amenities.


In this project, the Client expects the team to design the following:

1) A guideline of best practices for the inclusive design of park furniture, features and amenities. Ideally, this would be informed by consulting directly with people with lived experience of homelessness, as well as drawing on Park People’s existing homelessness research and resources.

2) Digital prototypes (e.g. renderings, sketches, 3D models) of sample park furniture/amenities designed to support people experiencing homelessness as well as the broader public. These designs could include inclusive versions of traditional park features (e.g. benches, pavilions), as well as new features (e.g. outdoor lockers where people can securely store belongings). In addition to being be practical, cost-effective, and suitable for the Canadian climate, designs should promote the dignity and social inclusion of people using parks as places of shelter.