Despite the substantial effort by the City and residents, the threat of COVID-19 continues, with new strains and outbreaks occurring. It remains essential that we provide physical distancing and supports for the City’s most vulnerable residents. The City of Toronto continues to implement its three-tiered approach to strengthening prevention against COVID-19 in the City’s emergency shelter system.
As part of this continued response, the City has announced plans to open a temporary shelter at 45 The Esplanade beginning in late February. This new temporary shelter would be operated by Homes First, who are an experienced operator that currently assists over 1,400 residents living with homelessness daily. At 45 The Esplanade, Homes First will be operating a temporary shelter with up to 254 rooms available here for 2021, which would include rooms for staff, office space, and programming. Staff will be reviewing existing temporary shelter and respite programs in the area to look at consolidating services. More information, including Frequently Asked Questions, is available on the City’s website.
Under the deathly shadow of a rapidly moving global health pandemic, the need to protect all Toronto residents from COVID-19 is critical. City staff are moving to urgently carry out the temporary actions needed to get us through this historic state of emergency.
Since March of last year, the City has moved 3,600 homeless clients into temporary sites across Toronto. These are a variety of spaces including hotels, respite sites, interim and permanent housing to provide additional physical distancing within a crowded shelter system. Their introduction, while often sudden, is not intended to extend past the threat of COVID-19. Like many other hotels being used for temporary shelter sites during the pandemic, the City will need to return the keys back to the owners. Currently, the lease for 45 The Esplanade is scheduled to end on December 31, 2021.
Numerous wrap-around supports for clients will be provided on-site at 45 The Esplanade, as well as community safety initiatives. Homes First will be working with all clients to develop a permanent housing plan and related supports, offering meals and programming onsite. Programming includes teams to provide mental and physical health-related supports such as nursing, a primary care physician, and psychiatric supports. Toronto Public Health will be facilitating harm reduction supports onsite. These services are exclusively for clients of 45 The Esplanade, and will not be available on a drop-in basis. Security teams as well as two roaming Community Safety Teams will be provided 24/7 to provide education and support for people living with homelessness, addiction and mental health.
Unlike most temporary shelter sites that have been introduced since the pandemic began, there will be an opportunity to learn more about this facility and ask questions before it opens. Details will be provided and notices will be distributed for a meeting on February 18, 2021 from 7pm to 9pm. More information on how to connect will be posted on the City’s website.
I understand that despite this work and effort, some residents will be upset by the introduction of a temporary shelter here. In this time of crisis, it is critical that there is adequate space for people who are living with homelessness to physically distance. The sooner we can prevent the transmission of COVID-19, the sooner we can confidently re-open the economy and get back to life as we know.
City staff and Homes First will be working to create a Community Liaison Committee to regularly engage with the neighbourhood. This will include participation from the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association, the St. Lawrence Market Neighbourhood Business Improvement Area, and 51 Division.
The City has also hired a community engagement facilitator to assist with any questions or concerns. You can reach the facilitator, Joe Mihevc, at [email protected]. Contacting the facilitator will also allow you to sign up to receive electronic community bulletins and updates. Immediate site concerns can be provided to Homes First, 24/7, at 647-454-8824. If you have general inquiries about homelessness and shelters, you can contact the Shelter, Support, and Housing Administration at [email protected]
I look forward to working with the community and my colleague, Councillor Cressy, to ensure the operating success of this temporary shelter.