At the beginning of the pandemic (March 2020) Regent Park TV interviewed David Reycraft, Director of Housing, Homelessness Services at Dixon Hall, who then described the housing and shelter situation faced the Toronto’s homeless population as dire - eight months later a great deal has changed.
In Toronto’s downtown east side, in the areas of known as Moss Park, Regent Park, Cabbage Town, Church and Wellesley, and St Jamestown where there is the greatest concentration of people considered to be low income, living in poverty, and homeless, the matter of responding to the urgency posed by the pandemic has never been more obvious.
While homelessness in the public eye may no longer be seen as a phenomenon limited only to certain areas of the city, it is however, in the more concentrated areas of the downtown core. With the existing stock of shelters beds compromised by the pandemic, those facing chronic homelessness have turned to the only means of shelter available to them, camping-out in tents. As these tent cities, or encampments grew, so did the realization that this was a much broader issue, one that required a more extensive response from government as this was a matter that touched on not only social services, but health care, and ultimately on both the short-term and long-term solutions for people who are facing homelessness
To its credit The City of Toronto, through the Shelter, Support & Housing Administration Division, has over the course of the pandemic substantially increased the level of support to homeless people.
Among the more striking and contentious developments has been the leasing of hotel sites in the Toronto area. What began with sheltering 313 homeless people in hotels by April 7, 2020, has, as of September 16, 2020, grown to 2,000 individuals occupying 19 hotels.
These hotels include:
Victoria Hotel, 56 Yonge St.
Roehampton Hotel, 808 Mt Pleasant Rd. (two-year lease)
Delta Hotel, 2035 Kennedy Rd.
New Plaza Motel, 4585 Kingston Rd.
Holiday Inn Express, 30 Norfinch Ave.
Holiday Inn Scarborough, 50 Estate Dr.
Edward Village, 185 Yorkland Blvd.
The Alexandra Hotel, 77 Ryerson Ave.
Staybridge Vaughan, 3600 Steeles Ave. West
Days Inn, 1684 Queen St. East
Comfort Hotel Airport North, 445 Rexdale Blvd.
Econo Lodge Suites, 335 Jarvis St.
Howard Johnson by Wyndham, 14 Roncesvalles Ave.
The Strathcona Hotel, 60 York St.
Super 8 by Wyndham, 222 Spadina Ave.
The Bond Place Hotel, 65 Dundas St. East (two-year lease)
As part of the City’s hotel leasing plan, various social housing services will be funded to manage and support the hotel occupants. Dixon Hall Housing Services for example will manage three of the leased hotels. They are the Bond Place Hotel, The Strathcona Hotel and the Victoria Hotel, and all clients at these hotels will have access to Mental Health and Addictions case management counsellors, and a robust Medical Support model that includes health partners, food programming, harm reduction supports and community engagement opportunities and strategies.
Additionally, the City’s expanded response to the needs of Toronto’s homeless population has included 11 emergency shelters, 57 emergency shelter locations, transitional shelters, seven 24-hour respite sites, two 24-hour women’s drop-in, 24-hour COVIC-19 response sites, warming centres, central intake, housing solutions, 220 supportive housing units, and rapid housing teams,
The figures speak for themselves, and as stated earlier, all credit must go to the City and its many partner organizations in creating this remarkably robust response to COVID-19. However, these changes do come with a few caveats, the entirety of the response is strictly temporary, and in the areas that the shelter-hotels have opened up in, the move has met with considerable push back from local residents. On the first point, the temporary nature of the shelter-hotels response is that it does not consider the long-term problems of housing the homeless population of Toronto – although there are two new projects, the Modular Housing Initiative (part of the Housing TO 2020-2030 Action Plan) that will add 100 affordable rental units. The broader objectives of the project, which includes a supportive housing component, are to assist people experiencing homelessness to transition into more permanent and sustainable living arrangements.
The second part of the shelter-hotels question arises from the objections of local residents. Generally speaking, residents in the surrounding areas where shelter-hotels have cropped up have complained that the new facilities bring in other social groups that do not share the values of the local groups. They also complain that crime has gone up since homeless people moved in. And, that property values have gone down as a result – NOT IN MY BACKYARD is the consensus.
Sadly, any attempts at reframing the issues around homelessness, whether it is income inequality, poverty, and chronic homelessness must take into account the prevalence of narratives that both support attitudes of intolerance and promote policy making on the basis of excluding certain groups because of race, ethnicity, and economic standing. Perhaps projects like the Modular Housing Initiative can bridge some of these more superficial concerns of blending into neighbourhoods, while at the same time tackling the deeper imperatives of providing adequate, affordable, and sustainable housing for all members of our society.
Watch full video here:
FOCUS Media Arts Centre