I am saddened to hear Toronto health officials have confirmed that as of today, April 14, there are 30 cases of COVID-19 reported at seven different shelters across the city, including Seaton House. This number is shocking, although not surprising.
I know that many residents are concerned about the City of Toronto’s response. The leadership at the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) are looking to find ways for people in the shelter system to physically maintain distance safely. I know they’re working hard and I am grateful for the measures taken so far. I especially want to thank all frontline staff who are doing incredible work in unimaginable circumstances.
I also want to state clearly it is not the fault of frontline shelter workers that we do not have every person within our shelter system housed and safely in isolation. It is a direct failure of vision and leadership from City Council. That we have a housing and homelessness crisis is not new information. That this is a population that can not self isolate, and a population at much higher risk for severe COVID-19 disease due to baseline higher rates of chronic medical conditions is not new information. I understand that the logistics required to house clients and keep staff safe are complex. We could have, and should have been better prepared.
Toronto City Council has endorsed housing as a human right. This important new policy direction was set into motion when we adopted the 10-year Housing TO 2020-2030 Action Plan in December 2019. Toronto’s lack of affordable housing, supportive and transitional housing, mental health services, and shelter overcapacity have produced deadly consequences. That we do not have a confirmed death in our shelter system yet does not negate the fact that over a thousand people have died on our streets. For years, alongside homeless advocates, I have said repeatedly that Toronto was facing a homelessness crisis. The magnitude of that crisis requires a co-ordinated, intergovernmental, human-rights based emergency response. That was before we were looking directly at a global health pandemic.
With the state of emergencies being called at the municipal and Provincial level, we now have some emergency responses in place and more to come. Yet, I can’t help but feel frustrated that we are this far behind. The scope and scale of the initial homelessness crisis was so large that the important initiatives being undertaken don't feel like they go far enough or fast enough.
I also believe that the City can and must do a better job at communicating and coordinating the action plan, and moving faster to house everyone in the system. I am having regular conversations with Social Development, Finance and Administration (SDFA), Toronto Public Health (TPH), Shelter, Support Housing and Administration (SSHA) and community-based service providers to ensure the most vulnerable residing in the Downtown East are not left behind.
Some of you have contacted my office, 311 and Toronto Public Health asking about the proliferation of tents and encampments, worried about how those without homes or access to safe accommodations will be able to maintain safe physical distancing and recommended sanitation practices. Although this is not an exclusive challenge to one neighbourhood, or any one city, I know many of you are concerned about the situation at Sanctuary specifically.
I fully share your concern and have consistently expressed my own observations to the Emergency Operations leadership. I have raised the issue of encampments, waste management and physical distancing as it pertains to Toronto’s most vulnerable residents to the City’s divisional leadership.
Like the homelessness crisis, encampments at Sanctuary Ministries Toronto at 25 Charles St East were a challenge before the COVID-19 outbreak. The leadership at the Sanctuary had given “permission” for individuals to set up tents on the front and back of their property. Over the course of months, I had been convening meetings with Sanctuary staff, Toronto Police Services, and SSHA staff to accelerate and prioritize the housing of individuals camping on Sanctuary property. After our first in-person meeting, the Sanctuary agreed to work with City staff to rapidly house and shelter the individuals, including those with very complex needs. Progress was being made, as the City’s Streets to Homes team visited the site over 50 times, multiple times day and night to connect people with supports. Our sixth meeting scheduled for April 20, 2020 with Sanctuary has been postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, any progress made was quickly lost as new permissions from Sanctuary were given to re-establish tents on their private property. Although the Sanctuary is not a City of Toronto funded agency and is a private charity governed by its own Board of Directors, I have asked the Emergency Operations Centre to directly address the poor sanitation and lack of physical distancing on their premises. The objective is to ensure the health and safety of those most at risk and stop the spread of COVID-19 by quickly providing accommodations and other supports in the quickest time possible.
Sadly, encampments are a trend that is happening more and more on city and private property as individuals experience great difficulty accessing shelter spaces and self-isolating hotel rooms. While street outreach workers continue to proactively connect with people to offer support and access to additional services - the EOC has placed homeless encampment clearings on hold until further notice. For many homeless people, living individually in tents is much safer than entering the overcrowded shelter system.
Those of us with stable housing are fortunate. I know that it is challenging to see people outside who are not practicing physical distancing, but the best way you can help them is to email the Mayor, Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and advocate to immediately house vulnerable individuals. The faster we can get them into proper supportive housing and hotel accommodations, the sooner they can isolate safely.
Right now, all City-operated shelters, respites and 24-hour women’s drop-ins remain open and support activities continue. Streets to Homes outreach is ongoing. If you see someone that you think needs help, please continue to call 311 to report it.
What that doesn't address is that on many nights, all seven respite centres are full, and the two 24-hour women’s drop-ins are over capacity. With the closures of most of the Out of the Cold programs, there are just not enough beds in the system to begin with. While the City has opened new programs with at least 470 extra spaces, this was not to create additional capacity but for more physical distancing for existing clients in shelters, respite centres and 24-hour drop-ins. We have been advised there are an additional ten facilities identified and ready to be activated as they are needed.
In addition to providing guidance for advanced screening and cleaning, the City of Toronto is looking at ways to provide hotel rooms and housing to everyone, not just those who test positive for COVID-19 or are exhibiting symptoms. To date the City has:
- Opened a recovery site with 200 spaces for people in the shelter system who test positive for COVID 19, and to be isolated while they recover. As of today, 176 shelter clients have been transported for testing and isolation related to COVID-19.
- Announced that they secured 12 hotels with 1,200 hotel beds across a dozen sites as part of the operational response. As of today, eight are operational.
- Announced that staff are working to transition residents from shelters to hotels over the next few days, and 313 people have been moved so far. City staff are also looking into other suitable sites, including university residences, motels, and vacant rental buildings.
- Identified 250 vacant Toronto Community Housing units to prioritize access to housing for individuals in the shelter systems and by the end of the week, 50 people will have been housed. Housing referrals are made through the Coordinated Access system and people matched with housing are provided with housing stability supports and home furnishings. Units are being prioritized for particularly vulnerable individuals, including seniors.
Mayor John Tory has also said that the City is aggressively pursuing new modular-housing projects, using prefabricated units to quickly build supportive housing on city land for people who are currently underhoused. And he opened the door to a much larger program of affordable housing built through partnerships with both non-profit and for-profit developers.
These are all important actions. Again, I thank all the frontline staff and emergency responders doing their best in the face of a giant, years-long crisis. I will also continue to advocate that every person living in Toronto without a home is given a safe space to isolate immediately.
This means doing more and much faster. City announcements must be accompanied with immediately tangible actions that can be clearly tracked, with timelines and progress reports to the public provided through the daily updates. With the support of government and community partners, we can and should build more housing, but until that happens, we must help people get off the streets and out of the crowded shelters now.
Thank you for your resilience, it is an honour to represent you.
Community Care in Ward 13
Today’s Community Care shoutout goes to our many essential workers in each of our neighbourhoods, but especially our sanitation workers! We have had several residents reach out praising the ongoing work they are doing across our city. These workers have been tirelessly collecting our yard waste, garbage and recycling throughout this crisis. This is not always a glamorous job but the work they are doing is important to keep our city clean, and safe.
I know many of our residents have been cheering on our essential workers nightly at 7p.m. from their balconies and porches. While this is typically the change in shift for our hospital workers, it has become a heartwarming way to celebrate all of our essential workers. This is a great opportunity to show solidarity and support, while practicing physical distancing. Let us know if a 7pm nightly cheer is taking place on your block.
Please continue to email my office at firstname.lastname@example.org to share examples of community care in your neighbourhood and ways you are supporting your community at this time. I’ll be happy to promote it, space permitting, in our communication to the residents and business owners in Ward 13. Every bit goes a long way!
Keep Practising Physical Distance!
As the City of Toronto evokes these new measures for public health, please remember to keep practising social distancing. I know it’s challenging, and I thank you for your continued hard work.
The single best way for Torontonians to support each other right now is to stay home and practise physical distancing to prevent COVID-19 spread.
- If you have symptoms of illness, do not leave your home under any circumstance until you have spoken with a medical professional and been given the all clear.
- If you have just returned from travel, do not leave your home under any circumstance for 14 days.
- And even if you are not sick and have not traveled, unless you work in an essential industry, stay at home except for essential trips.
Many people have asked for more clarification on when and if you can take walks outside. You can go for a walk if you:
- have not been diagnosed with COVID-19
- do not have symptoms of COVID-19
- have not travelled outside of Canada in the past 14 days
Think of your walks as part of the essential trips you have to take, like going grocery shopping, and take the same precautions. If you go out for a walk, do not congregate and always practise physical distancing. When outside, you must keep at least 2 metres apart from others at all times and stay off of closed parks amenities and facilities, or you may be subjected to a fine.
Thank you for doing your part to slow the spread of COVID-19 and help protect our communities. For more tips on social distancing, please visit toronto.ca/covid19.
TDSB Update from Trustee Chris Moise
As schools across the City have started e-learning courses last week, the Toronto District School Board has committed to connecting with families across the Board to determine where the needs are for laptops and internet access to families who are in need. Every household with an updated email on file should have received an email from the TDSB asking if they need devices and/or access to the Internet at home.
If you have not heard directly from the TDSB yet and are in need of an electronic device such as a tablet or laptop, you can fill out the Device & Internet Request Form. The link to the form can be found here. If your child(ren) has access to a device such as a desktop, laptop, tablet or iPad with Internet, you do not need to complete the form.
In addition, as part of the TDSB’s comprehensive Remote Learning plan that includes distributing electronic devices to families, the TDSB has recently secured 5000 iPads from Apple Canada. These iPads will be enabled with internet for those families that require both a device and internet access. The TDSB is leasing these devices, enabled with internet, for 6 months. The TDSB will be providing further details shortly.
Student Nutrition Program
The Toronto Foundation for Student Success (TFSS) is an independent, registered charitable organization dedicated to supporting TDSB children and helping remove barriers to their education. TFSS runs the Student Nutrition Program in TDSB schools. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, TFSS have been working to restructure the nutrition program to support families while students are at home. Working with partners, TFSS will be providing each child with a $50 food card.
Food card quantities are limited, so the TDSB will be using evidence-based data from the Learning Opportunities Index as well as noting secondary schools and others that are in communities facing great challenges, staff assembled a list of an additional 35 schools to start for Phase Two. As more funds are secured, more schools will be added to the list. The TFSS secured additional funds, which means for Phase Two of the program, staff are now able to provide grocery store food cards to about 6,800 TDSB students.
Families who have students in eligible schools will be receiving information from the school’s principal. For more information about the Student Nutrition Program and services changes due to COVID-19, please visit TFSS’s website.
City of Toronto COVID-19 Updates
As we know, today there are 30 cases of COVID-19 in our shelter system. Given the scale of this pandemic, additional cases are expected. The City, with the help of our community and health sector partners has put measures in place for active screening, testing and providing isolation spaces to slow transmission and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our emergency shelter system. Learn more about the City of Toronto Shelter Support & Housing Strategy here.
Support Small Businesses
Today, Mayor John Tory highlighted the launch of an online donation platform that allows community members to make direct donations to small businesses to help lessen the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Founded by Susan McArthur, Daniel Spataro and Moe Katib, this platform allows customers to continue to support local main street businesses impacted by non-essential closures, such as coffee shops, restaurants and hair salons. This comes as a response to Mayor Tory’s call that asked Toronto companies to come forward with ideas to help the City respond to this crisis.
Local businesses can visit distantly.ca to set up their free account today or contact their local Business Improvement Association for assistance. Toronto residents who are able, can make a secure online donation to their favourite local business. These contributions will help to alleviate expenses, such as rent and payroll.
The platform was developed in partnership with the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA), who represent more than 40,000 business and property owners, and Digital Main Street, a City and TABIA initiative to help brick and mortar main street businesses open an online presence. Other partners included David McArthur, Enterprise, Totum Life Science, and Migeotte and Migeotte. Find more information about the Economic Support & Recovery Task Force here.
St. Lawrence Market Hours Changed to Respond to COVID-19
The St. Lawrence Market remains open to provide access to food for residents. Traffic remains steady, but light, and this has impacted market tenants. In order to respond to the increased financial burden, the hours of operation of the South Market have been changed to today, and will remain until further notice.
The revised hours of operation for the South Market will be:
Tuesday to Friday: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Saturday: 5:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Sunday and Monday: closed
These revised hours should provide time for customers to access the South Market, allow merchants to adjust their operations to be more sustainable. The St. Lawrence Market management team will continue to evaluate the hours of operation in consultation with merchants and stakeholders and make adjustments if required.
Province of Ontario Updates
The Ontario legislature will sit today to extend the province’s state of emergency by 28 days. The provincial government is expected to pass legislation to extend the provincial state of emergency, including regulations for school boards, post-secondary institutions and municipalities during the pandemic.
Critical Medical Equipment and Supplies
As part of the province’s daily updates, the government outlined that over the last five days, more than 13 million surgical and procedural masks, 200,000 N95 respirator masks, and 38 ventilators have been delivered to Ontario's pandemic stockpile warehouses.
The government is providing same-day deliveries to hospitals, long-term care and retirement homes, and other facilities to support essential workers and equipment are expedited to those most in need. This includes shipments this past weekend of 6.5 million surgical and procedural masks to over 650 providers across the province to protect our frontline workers, patients and residents. While Ontario is making progress in procuring critical supplies and equipment, the global supply chain remains constrained. The government is working to ensure those in priority areas and in urgent need are receiving the supplies they need.
Province Developing New Health Data Platform
The Ontario government is taking steps to better detect, plan and respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. In consultation with the Ontario Privacy Commissioner, the province is developing a new health data platform called the Pandemic Threat Response (PANTHR). This new platform will hold secure health data that will allow researchers to better support health system planning and responsiveness, including the immediate need to analyze the current COVID-19 outbreak.
The provincial government will be appointing a PANTHR special advisor to provide recommendations about the data and policies to support and help overcome barriers while developing this platform.
The information gathered in the secure platform will help break down long-standing barriers and allow researchers to help with:
Increasing detection of COVID-19;
Discovering risk factors for vulnerable populations;
Predicting when and where outbreaks may happen;
Evaluating how preventative and treatment measures are working; and
Identifying where to allocate equipment and other resources.
Government of Canada Updates
The spread of COVID-19 through long-term care homes in the country has been alarming. The Federal Government announced the roll out out evidence-based and informed guidelines to long-term care homes and similar settings to try and reduce the spread of the virus. It was reiterated that following social distancing remains one of the most critical measures Canadians can do.
It was also announced that all the people returning to Canada will need to check into a hotel or other designated site unless they have an acceptable self-quarantine plan. This will apply to everyone returning to the country, regardless of whether they have COVID-19 symptoms. Those returning will not be allowed to self-quarantine with anyone over 65 or with pre-existing health conditions.
Food production in Canada relies on experienced temporarily farm workers. Yesterday, the Federal Government announced $50 million for farmers and food processors to help with the costs of the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for Temporary Foreign Workers. Federal support of $1,005 per worker to help farmers pay workers while they are isolated before they can start working.
COVID-19 Information and Resources
Now is the time to stay informed through credible sources, and to follow the advice of our public health professionals. Together we can limit the spread of COVID-19.
311 and Access to Information
The City’s website is updated daily with the latest health advice and information about City services and social supports. Check here for answers to common questions before contacting the 311 or Toronto Public Health COVID-19 Hotline.
311 is available 24/7 by telephone for essential service inquiries and service requests. Those calling 311 should expect longer than usual wait times as 311 continues to receive a high volume of calls.
- 311 (within city limits)
- 416-392-2489 (outside of city limits)
- 416-338-0889 (TTY)
Please note, email and social media accounts are not being monitored and the 311 Knowledge Base and online service requests are not available.
Phone lines for telehealth, TPH and 311 continue to experience very high volumes. Please help keep the phone lines open for people who are sick by visiting the Toronto Public Health COVID-19 website for up-to-date information and resources: toronto.ca/covid-19.
Call if you develop symptoms!
Toronto Public Health Hotline
8:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Call if you have questions about COVID-19.
The best source for up-to-date information on community social program availability is 211. Program listings are updated daily as information is received from providers. Residents can call 211 directly for information or view a map of local service providers on the 211 website.