COVID-19 Update, April 29

Tomorrow, City Council will be meeting for the first time since Mayor John Tory declared a State of Emergency on March 23, 2020. This declaration gave the Mayor the authority to make any decision that City Council could make for the following 30 days. The Mayor was able to take quicker emergency action to address the COVID-19 pandemic without scheduling a physical City Council meeting. His actions to date have been advised by the General Manager of Emergency Management, Chief Matthew Pegg, and the City’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, to further public health outcomes in keeping people safe and preventing the further spread of COVID-19.

Since then, Mayor Tory has asked for an extension of his delegated authority until the State of Emergency until the threat of COVID-19 to the city has ended and has committed to holding an additional special City Council meeting within the next 30 days to consider outstanding and urgent new business. You can read the City Council agenda for tomorrow’s meeting here.

I am broadly in support of extending this authority, albeit only for an additional 30 days, at which point City Council should be given the opportunity to review this issue again. I strongly believe that we are outside the window of immediate crisis. There needs to be political and civilian accountability through this crisis response and we must get back to regular City business. 

As I said on Friday, I am keen for tomorrow’s meeting because I believe that there are important issues that we desperately need to publicly review. Chief among them is the City’s and all other government responses to vulnerable populations, including people experiencing homeless. 

For weeks the City has been focusing its homelessness COVID-19 efforts on the already overburdened shelter system. The City’s response has been to move shelter clients into new locations that can meet the two-metre distancing guidelines. City staff estimate that out of a population of 8,000 people accessing the shelter system, there is  a need to relocate between 2,000 and 3,000 people. As we have indicated before, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) staff have created some additional spaces through a combination of hotels, community spaces and vacant apartments. To date, 11 new facilities have opened (including seven community centres) with 492 spaces. In addition, 1,020 hotel rooms, across 11 hotels, have been secured. The City has identified 15 additional locations for future use. As of April 27, two days ago, 1,355 clients have been safely relocated. Additional clients will be moved over the next week.

SSHA Infographic

That still leaves approximately 5,000 to 6,000 homeless individuals in congregate living conditions who are at risk as they are unable to self-isolate. I will be urging the leadership at the Emergency Operations Center to develop and implement an accelerated plan to quickly house those in our shelter system or sleeping in outdoor encampments at tomorrow’s City Council meeting. 

The encampments we are seeing are a symptom of a pre-existing crisis that has been caused by decades of government cutbacks and inaction on a growing housing and homelessness crisis. For too long the provincial and federal governments have failed in their responsibility to invest in supportive housing and comprehensive addiction and mental health services. Despite the best efforts and intentions of City staff and the service workers trying to support them, those staying in encampments do not have adequate sanitation or the ability to practice physical distancing. They are oftentimes exposed to lateral violence, at risk of falling to predatory behaviour and uneven policing. This has created unsafe conditions for people sleeping outside, as well as the surrounding community.  Absolutely no one is happy with this state of affairs and we continue to live with the consequences of a homelessness crisis within a COVID-19 crisis.

Today, the City of Toronto has announced it will lead a comprehensive effort to move people staying in encampments into newly acquired, furnished temporary accommodations. Two buildings have been secured that will provide 24-hour staffing supports, harm reduction supports, meals and long-term housing support. For more details on this plan please see today’s City of Toronto update below.

I have been advocating for this important initiative for weeks and hope it will start to ease some of the pressure people are feeling. Please keep in mind this new service will not eliminate encampments and house people overnight. While we want to encourage as many people as possible to move into these newly available units, the City alone can not force them to accept any service they don’t want. In order to ensure community safety I will continue to push for emergency services at the encampment sites, including enhanced cleaning, access to proper washrooms, focused street outreach and harm reduction services.

In addition to extending the Mayor's authority, City Council will be debating authorizing the Implementation of the New Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit Program and implementing the Toronto Modular Housing Initiative as an urgent response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These are important and necessary steps, but they are far cries for the coordinated crisis response needed. The modular housing initiative, if approved, would see 110 new homes ready by September 2020, with another 140 homes open in early 2021. While this is a significant step in the right direction, it is clear that it will not immediately help the thousands of people who are unable to isolate or physically distance right now.  

I want to thank all of the SSHA staff, frontline healthcare and shelter workers, activists, non-profit and community organizations. You are doing incredibly important work in impossible situations to provide care, support and love to some of the city's most vulnerable people. 

I want us to imagine a scenario where the City of Toronto had declared a housing and homelessness emergency when I brought forward the motions in 2017, again in 2018, and then again in 2019. After years of unrelenting advocacy, City Council finally declared housing as a human right in December 2019. I wonder now, if granted the foresight to see the COVID-19 crisis coming, would City Council have repeatedly voted against declaring a homelesness emergency then. 

Mayor Tory declared a state of emergency after one person died of COVID-19 in Toronto. He was right to do so. While I recognize the transmission factors that required this action, Toronto Public Health did record 145 deaths of individuals experiencing homelessness between January 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018. The homelessness crisis has been in an emergency state for years, and continues to be an emergency made all the more stark by the threat of COVID-19. 

We have seen what can happen when all three levels of government decide that something is an emergency and commit collectively to respond to it. This is the emergency response needed in Toronto to address COVID-19, but also how critical it is to move every homeless individual into a clean and safe home during and after the pandemic.

We have needed all three levels of government to work together to end homelessness for years. Now, more than ever, City Council must take this opportunity to convene an intergovernmental emergency meeting with representatives of the provincial and federal governments to collectively develop, fund and implement an urgent plan of action. 

City Council and all orders of governments must demonstrate through collective action our commitment to comply with obligations under International Human Rights Law, and take all appropriate measures to end homelessness as a human rights crisis. 

Please write or call Mayor John Tory (416-397-2489), Premier Ford (416-745-2859) and Prime Minister Trudeau to affirm your support for housing as a human right. Let all governments know that they need to declare homelessness an emergency during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Only by properly naming it and working together can we support the most vulnerable in our society and end homelessness for all.

Thank you for your resilience, it is an honour to represent you. 

Kristyn


Community Care in Ward 13 

Today’s Community Care shoutout goes to Anjali Helferty who has created a website to help local restaurants. As many restaurants are charged a large fee for food delivery platforms, some restaurants have begun doing their own deliveries. This website is designed to offer residents an alternative to bigger delivery apps and services. Have a look at diydeliveries.ca to see how you can support local business. If you own a business that would like to participate, please fill out the form on the website to have it listed. Thank you Anjali for your ingenuity and for supporting local businesses. 

Support Small Businesses

Please continue to email my office at councillor_wongtam@toronto.ca 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 Distancing!

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. Please remember to stay off of closed parks amenities and facilities, or you may be subjected to a fine. If you must leave your home, please stay at least 6 ft (2 metres) away from others on the streets. These measures are crucial to protect the greater public health.

Physical DistanceThe single best way for Torontonians to support each other right now is to stay home and practise physical distancing to prevent COVID-19 spread. 

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.


City of Toronto COVID-19 Updates 

Special City Council Meeting Tomorrow

Tomorrow, Toronto City Council will meet virtually for the first time in its history. Mayor Tory called the special City Council meeting to be held Thursday, April 30 at 10 a.m. City Council will meet using an online video conferencing platform. 

View the Mayor’s report on the COVID-19 Emergency here.

View the livestream here. 

View the City Council Agenda here.

Providing Interim Housing to People Sleeping in Encampments

As part of the ongoing fight against COVID-19 and to help stop the spread of the virus, the City of Toronto is providing interim housing for people sleeping outdoors. The new interim housing is located in two vacant apartment buildings in Midtown Toronto. The buildings are being leased by the City from a local developer.

This welcome partnership allows the City to provide temporary housing with supports for vulnerable clients for up to six months. The new program is located in two connected, vacant mid-rise apartment buildings. There are a total of 125 furnished units for clients. There is a kitchen available in each unit and clients will have access to laundry, free wi-fi and cable television. The building is accessible and pet-friendly. There is no cost to clients.

Clients will be provided with on-site supports including meals, 24/7 staff support, security and case management focused on long-term housing and other immediate needs including harm reduction supports. This interim housing will help act as a bridge to more permanent housing options for these residents.

Health and safety are a priority; active and ongoing screening for COVID-19 symptoms, infection prevention, infection control measures and enhanced room and common area cleaning will be undertaken.

The City’s Streets to Homes outreach team, working with community partners, will approach individuals and couples who are sleeping outdoors for an opportunity to move into these units. Access to units will be prioritized for clients in encampment sites that present health and safety concerns and are identified as higher risk to COVID-19 related harms. 

The City gained temporary possession of the building this week and will need to:

  • Work with Toronto Fire Services, Toronto Building and other divisions to ensure buildings and units are safe;
  • Furnish the buildings;
  • Secure contracts for linens, security, food, laundry and cleaning;
  • Engage individuals and couples who are experiencing homelessness and sleeping outdoors and work with those who want to move; and,
  • Arrange for transport of clients, pets and their belongings into the program.

Beginning today, clients staying in outdoor locations identified for this program will be offered access to a variety of indoor spaces including this interim housing program and will be notified of clearing of the encampment sites they are on. Outreach teams will continue to engage with clients at these sites after these encampment clearing notices have been posted. Please note that there remains a moratorium on clearing encampments.

Access to units will be prioritized for clients who are chronically homeless, identified as having a higher risk to COVID-19, in encampment sites that are located in areas that lack sanitary and food resources and present health and safety concerns to them and the general public.

The goal of this program is to provide a safe space for clients who are sleeping outdoors that is conducive to physical distancing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. It will also reduce the number of clients in encampments and bedded down outside across the city and provide them with health and well-being supports. This is part of a rapid, overall strategy to open 23 new sites with more than 1,400 spaces for isolation, physical distancing, recovery and housing. Learn more about housing and shelter supports.

Implementation Plan for Modular Supportive Housing Units  

Mayor Tory announced the proposed implementation plan for a modular supportive housing initiative to create 110 modular homes on two City-owned sites. The new modular homes are expected to be ready for occupancy by September 2020 and will provide stable, affordable housing and support services to individuals experiencing homelessness. 

City of Toronto staff were preparing to bring forward a report to the March 23 Planning and Housing Committee meeting outlining the proposed implementation plan. As a result of the pandemic, regular committee and council meetings were cancelled while the need for supportive housing increased considerably.

Staff are recommending entering negotiations with Horizon North for the manufacturing, design and installation of up to 110 modular homes in two, three-storey developments, representing Phase I of the City’s modular housing pilot. The terms of the proposed contract will be reviewed and considered by City Council at its April 30, 2020 meeting. A full request for proposal will be issued in the summer of 2020 for the second phase of the pilot, representing an additional 140 modular supportive homes to be completed by April 2021.

Modular housing is prefabricated in a factory and then transported to the site where it is assembled, allowing it to be constructed at a lower cost and shorter timeframe than traditional housing models. It provides a unique opportunity to respond rapidly to the city's urgent homelessness situation, while also reducing pressure on the City's shelter system. 

The guiding principles for the pilot are: 

  • Provide a rapid, dignified response to connect people experiencing homelessness with homes and appropriate supports to help them achieve housing stability;
  • Develop a supportive housing model based on partnerships with other orders of government, the non-profit and the private sectors;
  • Create permanent, high quality, energy-efficient modular homes to ensure that people can establish housing stability and connect to their local community;
  • Prioritize the selection of sites that are close to both public transit and community and social services;
  • Prioritize the retention of City-owned sites by negotiating long-term land leases;
  • Achieve the highest possible public benefits from City-owned land; and,
  • Commit to meaningful public consultation and engagement.

View more details on the proposed implementation plan here.

Outbreak at Jesse Ketchum Early Learning and Child Care Centre

Three staff at Jesse Ketchum Early Learning and Child Care Centre, one of the City of Toronto’s seven licensed child care centres that provide care for the children of essential and critical service workers, have tested positive for COVID-19. In addition, two other staff and two children are awaiting test results.

The Jesse Ketchum Early Learning and Child Care Centre has suspended child care services for a period of 14 days. The centre will undergo a deep cleaning and will reopen once approval is granted by Toronto Public Health.

The City is notifying the families who have children attending the child care centre. Staff and the 58 children who attended between April 21 and April 28 will be asked to remain at home for two weeks from their last day at the child care centre and will be excluded from all Toronto emergency child care centres as a precautionary measure for this same period.

Toronto Children's Services has been implementing enhanced infection prevention and control procedures that meet public health guidelines. This includes small group sizes for rooms, daily screening which includes temperature checks of children and staff and the development of enhanced infection prevention policies and procedures approved by Toronto Public Health and the Province.

The City’s six remaining emergency child care centres will continue to operate: 

  • Malvern Early Learning & Child Care, 1321 Neilson Road
  • Thomas Berry Early Learning & Child Care, 3495 Lake Shore Blvd W.
  • Falstaff Early Learning & Child Care, 10 Falstaff Avenue
  • City Kids Early Learning & Child Care, 34 Bathurst St.
  • Danforth Early Learning & Child Care, 1125 Danforth Ave.
  • Metro Hall Early Learning & Child Care, 55 John St., will open on April 29

Children’s Services, in conjunction with Toronto Public Health, will be reviewing any other procedures that may be put in place to ensure the health and safety of families.

Cherry Blossoms in High Park 

With the peak bloom period about to begin, the City of Toronto is closing High Park starting tomorrow, Thursday, April 30. Throughout the closure period, the City, in partnership with the Toronto Public Library Bookmobile and Rogers Communications, will provide a continuous livestream of the cherry tree grove in High Park. In addition, multiple live events and videos featuring virtual walk-throughs of the blossoming Sakura (cherry blossom) trees will be held. 

The timing of live events is weather-dependent and will be announced on the City’s website and corporate social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Watch the cherry blossoms here. 

More information on affected City services & facilities.

More updates from the City of Toronto.


Province of Ontario Updates

The Ontario government is further expanding the list of essential workers eligible to receive free emergency child care during the COVID-19 outbreak. Those who will benefit include people who work in the food supply chain, retirement homes, grocery stores, pharmacies and certain federal employees, including the military. Since emergency child care was introduced last month, almost 100 child care centres have reopened along with 40 Licensed Home Child Care Agencies in communities across the province.

On March 22, 2020, the government announced an emergency order directing certain child care centres to reopen while abiding by physical distancing rules. The list of essential workers eligible to access emergency childcare has now been further expanded. To accommodate more children, 37 additional centres have been approved and will be reopening in the coming days.

The additional frontline workers who can now access emergency childcare services include:

  • Workers in grocery stores and pharmacies;
  • Truck drivers (driver's licence Class A and Class D);
  • Workers in the food supply chain, including food processing;
  • Workers in retirement homes;
  • Auxiliary workers in health care settings, including cooks and cleaning staff in hospitals and long-term care homes;
  • Interpreters and intervenors who support people who are deaf, deafened, hard of hearing and deafblind;
  • Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) emergency personnel;
  • Provincial officers and onsite staff in Ontario courts;
  • Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence staff working in Ontario; and,
  • Additional workers supporting public safety and correctional services.

Learn more about the Province’s child care for health care and frontline workers here.

More updates from the Province of Ontario.


Government of Canada Updates

Work was underway in the House of Commons to pass legislation that would provide $9 billion in financial aid to post-secondary students taking a financial hit because of the global pandemic. More information will be provided should the legislation be enacted.

Income tax payment deadlines for Canadians have been extended to August 31, 2020, without incurring interest or penalties. As a reminder, the filing due date for 2019 income tax returns for individuals has been deferred until June 1, 2020.

The trends for new COVID-19 infections remain on a positive trajectory. Please continue to #StayHome and practice appropriate safety measures when outside. 

Businesses can now apply for the new Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program. As many small businesses in Ward 13 are struggling, I encourage those employers who qualify to apply. Eligible companies will be able to receive up to $847 per employee per week, with money to start being distributed by May 7. Please visit the Federal Government’s CEWS website for more information.

Please note that if you are eligible to receive CEWS, you will not be able to receive the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) concurrently.

More updates from the Government of Canada.


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. 

Phone lines for telehealth, TPH and 311 continue to experience very high volumes. Please help keep the phones 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 

Telehealth Ontario
Call if you develop symptoms!
Telephone: 1-866-797-0000

Toronto Public Health Hotline
8:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Call if you have questions about COVID-19.
Telephone: 416-338-7600
TTY: 416-392-0658
Email: PublicHealth@toronto.ca

311 Toronto
Outside City limits: 416-392-2489
Call if you have questions about City services, or to report people
Telephone: 311 (The City is only accepting 311 requests through phone)

Phone: 416-392-7903
Constituency Office: 100 Queen St W A5, Toronto, ON, M5H 2N2