The health and safety of Ward 13 residents is a top priority that I have been working tirelessly to address with City staff from all divisions at the City of Toronto. Toronto is in the midst of three major crises: housing crisis, mental health and addiction crisis, and an overdose crisis that has hit urban centres across North America, including our Downtown East neighbourhood.
Much more needs to be done to create healthy, safe, inclusive neighbourhoods that work for everyone and the city is doing everything in its jurisdiction to address this complex issue. The other orders of government cannot walk away from our communities any longer – there will be no long-term solution until mental health services, addictions recovery, and other provincial and federal responsibilities are fully funded to provide those with acute needs a pathway to recovery. We need the Provincial and Federal government to step up and increase services and social supports.
Our Healthy Neighbourhood Summit brought together residents, City staff, community leaders and businesses to identify needs and service gaps in the neighbourhood. Insights collected informed both the Immediate 12-month and 5-year Downtown East Action Plans.
Last year, with the support of the community, I initiated the Immediate 12-month Action Plan and the landmark 5-Year Action Plan for the Downtown East, which will set comprehensive targets and strategies to improve conditions from Bay Street to Bayview Avenue, Bloor Street to the waterfront.
Among many other actions, the work we have done on the 5-year Downtown East Action Plan directs staff to:
- Establish a safety network for Dundas and Sherbourne, with specific outcome measures that include increased timely and appropriate responses to local concerns.
- Collect sharps and drug use supplies and facilitate safe disposal
- Substantially increase the frequency of alley, parks and laneway cleaning
- Request that the Toronto Police Services Board review the current response to safety and noise concerns in the Sherbourne Corridor and Moss Park areas and identify resource requirements to respond
- Enhance street outreach worker numbers to encourage vulnerable populations to access safe, supportive services
- Priority laneways receiving cleaning 3x/day
- Enhanced coordination of street outreach efforts
- Additional staff to provide enhanced harm reduction outreach
- Improve metrics on crime, social disorder, and quality of life as tracked by Toronto Police
- Offer planned recreation programs and leagues to individuals living in shelters or are affected by homelessness
51 Division is receiving 22 of the new officers hired by the force recently and we expect to see more later this year. Arrests are being made daily, targeting drug dealers and those who are victimizing neighbours and service users alike. However, when turned over to justices of the peace, they appear to be routinely discharged and return to the community with few conditions placed on them. Those with serious mental health and addictions challenges are discharged without the medical or addictions supports they need, too.
Hosting a safety walk with residents and community leaders to identify hotspot areas in the neighbourhood and discuss actions the City is taking to address pressing needs.
I meet regularly with resident community groups and have walked hotspot areas with them to understand their safety concerns. Their concerns are valid and I will continue to advocate for the health and safety for all residents, as well as work to address systemic gaps that have failed to support our most vulnerable.
We need to get the Provincial and Federal governments to come to the table immediately. While millions have been promised, we are not seeing crisis response programs and recovery or rehabilitation beds available to those looking for a way out. This is essential in addressing the complexity of the issue facing the Downtown East. To do this, I had Council support an amendment this month to convene a table with all three levels of government to look at the gaps that are failing Downtown East residents and to develop solutions. We need the support and commitment of all three levels of government to make meaningful investments into transitional housing, supportive housing, mental health support, recovery programs and crisis response programs in order to fully address the chronic health and safety issues in the Downtown East and properly support a vulnerable population across a full continuum of care.