On Tuesday, City Council adopted my motion “Ending Homelessness During a Pandemic: Calling for Immediate Action From the Provincial and Federal Governments.” Like many of you, I’m frustrated and angered with the growing homelessness, mental health and addictions crises that have quickly exacerbated under the pressure of the COVID-19 global pandemic. The system was broken before this started and now the suffering is even more alarming.
This past meeting of City Council was the first opportunity since the declaration of emergency was called by the Mayor on March 23 for me to formally move such a motion. For those who have been following the housing crisis, my motion will come as no surprise, as I have been urgently calling for an intergovernmental emergency response to end homelessness for the past three years.
In light of the global pandemic and growing homelessness, my motion is now more poignant than ever before. Toronto needs the Provincial and Federal governments to immediately take action to provide the funding, policy and program tools to augment services for homeless individuals. The City needs to also seek the support of community partners, including the Canadian Red Cross, in managing the harm inflicted by the housing and homelessness crisis. This support must include the supply of adequate water and sanitation supports at every encampment site until adequate new indoor accommodations are secured.
Today, the Province of Ontario announced that it would be doubling its investment in social services with an additional $148 million to support food banks, shelters and other life-saving social services across the entire province. While this announcement is welcomed, in Canada’s largest city we know that this will not even come close to being enough to address the chronic issue of homelessness in Toronto. The homelessness emergency that the city is facing is a public health crisis that requires urgent action. Simply put, Toronto is carrying the regional work for homelessness caused by the Provincial and Federal governments’ chronic lack of funding for supportive housing, mental health and addiction recovery programs. We continue to call upon the Provincial and Federal governments to do their job and much faster.
I have said it before and I will say it again: Toronto’s lack of affordable housing, supportive and transitional housing, addiction recovery, mental health services and shelter overcapacity have produced deadly consequences. That was before we were looking directly at a global health pandemic. The magnitude of this crisis requires a co-ordinated, intergovernmental, human-rights-based emergency response.
While the exact number of people living in encampments in Toronto is unknown, some estimates have put the number at over 2,000. Even if the City of Toronto was able to re-house people in encampments at 100 people a week, it will still be months before everyone is moved into suitable living accommodations.
In the meantime, people are living in abhorrent conditions, without access to running water and sanitation facilities. They are experiencing a spike in overdose deaths, violence and fires. The encampments continue to reflect an increase in concerns about the safety and well-being of both the people living outdoors and the local community. We should all share these concerns, and urge the City and the Provincial and Federal governments to come together to take collective action to rapidly house the homeless.
I am relieved to see the MPP Rima Berns-McGown, Opposition Critic for Poverty and Homelessness, table Motion 99 demanding that the Government of Ontario declare homelessness a public health crisis. The motion asks for interim measures, such as the funding of hotel rooms and other spaces, that would allow homeless Ontarians impacted by COVID-19 to appropriately self-isolate. The motion also calls for a long term plan to fund and develop supportive, transitional and permanent housing solutions for unsheltered Ontarians. Unfortunately, because of the Province’s Emergency Powers, it is unclear when the motion will be heard.
The City of Toronto is heading into an even larger disaster with a multi-billion dollar deficit looming overhead at the end of this year, of which $200 million is for unexpected COVID-19 spending to address the homelessness crisis. Further to this, the community centres and schools that were used for temporary space in our shelter system will soon be taken back for regular programming, and the hotel rentals will expire shortly along with the contracts of interim housing, all without a substantive plan or funding to address where people living in those sites will go afterwards.
Please continue to email and call Mayor Tory (firstname.lastname@example.org, 416-397-CITY (2489)), Premier Doug Ford (email@example.com, 416-325-1941), and MPP Stephen Clarke, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (firstname.lastname@example.org, 416-585-7000) and tell them to take immediate action. An additional $148 million for the entire Province of Ontario will not nearly begin to address Toronto’s growing homelessness crisis.
Sign up to Depute at the Police Service Board meeting
On June 29,2020 our motion aimed at defunding the Police and reallocating a minimum of 10% from the police budget next year to underfunded community services and policing alternatives was rejected by Toronto City Council. While our calls failed at City Council, there is still an opportunity for your voice to be heard. Sign up to speak at The Toronto Police Service Board virtual town hall meeting on July 9, 2020, starting at 9:00 a.m. You must sign up to speak no later than 12:00 p.m. on July 3, 2020. While there is no item up for consideration and no decision will be made as a result of this meeting, this is an opportunity for members of the public to continue to push for change and be heard. Sign up to depute here.
Black lives matter and will continue to matter every day. We will be working to keep you updated about opportunities to push for change. Please see our updated Process for Progress webpage to learn more about our motion, what changes passed and did not at City Council, how to depute and updates with next steps.
City to open 15 Emergency Cooling Centres during Heat Warning
Environment and Climate Change Canada has declared a Heat Warning for Toronto for Thursday, July 2 through to Sunday, July 5. Starting at 11 a.m. on July 2, the City of Toronto will open 15 Emergency Cooling Centres (ECCs) for the duration of the Heat Warning. An interactive map is available to help those who need to locate an Emergency Cooling Centre near them.
The Emergency Cooling Centres will offer a publicly accessible, air-conditioned place for residents to rest indoors and receive a cool drink. Staff who are trained to assist residents affected by the extreme heat will be on hand. Strict infection prevention and control measures will be in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The ECCs are available to residents if they do not have access to a cool space and cannot keep cool in their home or outdoors.
Community Care in Ward 13
In celebration of Canada, our community care shoutout goes to GTA Strings, a string quartet group located in Toronto that specializes in professional music experiences. Approximately 60 professional musicians came together to create their virtual orchestra project. You can watch the music video here. Thank you for this beautiful contribution of your talents.
Please continue to email my office at email@example.com 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!
COVID-19: Ongoing Tips to Reduce Virus Spread
As we begin to ease our public health measures, we will all be living a new normal. Our commitment must be to continue minimizing the impact of COVID-19, especially on our most vulnerable residents, while reducing negative social, economic and broader health impacts on our community. In the coming months what this means for our residents is:
- Continuing to work remotely, wherever possible;
- Maintaining physical distance from people outside our household or social circle/bubble;
- Avoiding crowds and congregations in closed indoor settings;
- Wearing a cloth mask or face covering in any indoor, enclosed public spaces or where physical distancing is difficult to maintain; and
- Staying home whenever we are sick for any reason.
When you are unable to keep a six feet/two-metre distance from others, wear a mask or face covering. This includes when you are:
- In any indoor, enclosed public space;
- In elevators, common areas, waiting rooms or shopping;
- Using transit, taxi or rideshare services; and
- Sick and going to a medical appointment.
Be respectful of others who choose not to wear a mask. Some health conditions make it hard to breathe when wearing a face covering.
How to Create a Safe Social Circles
As we continue our shared fight against COVID-19, you can now establish a family or social circle of no more than 10 people who can interact with one another without physical distancing. Social circles are a way to safely expand the number of people with whom you can come in close contact. Think of your social circle as the people you can hug and touch, or those who can become part of your daily and weekly routines.
The City of Toronto permit parking program has begun accepting and issuing new and renewed parking permits. While the office will be closed to the public, it can be accessed in the short-term by phone at 416-392-7873 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Friday.
The parking permit renewal window will be a full month, from July 2 until August 3, and there will be six-month and 12-month renewal options available. Existing permit holders can renew using the online renewal system or by mail.
New parking permit applications will be processed by mail and, for the duration of the emergency orders, a telephone option will be available. New applicants should contact the office before mailing in an application to ensure they have the proper documents.
Permit parking enforcement was paused due to COVID-19. Enforcement is expected to begin again starting August 14 at midnight.
All City of Toronto community centres have now been returned for community use after helping with the COVID-19 response. Today, the City of Toronto finished moving about 200 homeless residents staying in temporary sites in vacant community centres into hotels. Before any of the centres reopen for use by the community, they will undergo cleaning as per all recommended protocols.
Since mid-March, as part of a three-tier COVID-19 response focused on prevention, mitigation and recovery, the City has opened more than 30 new sites in hotels, community centres and expanded facilities for homeless clients with supports. This effort has included the reuse of vacant community centres as temporary shelter respites as a place for clients to physical distance inside with meals, showers, laundry and other supports. Clients were screened and anyone with COVID-19 symptoms was sent to an assessment centre for testing and to one of three isolation or recovery sites with health supports.
While the use of these community centres did not create additional capacity in City shelters, it allowed the City to achieve 100 per cent physical distancing in all 75 existing shelter sites as well as all temporary locations.
Since mid-March, the City has moved almost 3,200 people for physical distancing, as part of our ongoing commitment to providing inside space to the most vulnerable in our community. This has included moving more than 1,000 homeless clients into permanent housing and more than more than 170 clients into temporary housing.
The City continues to open new locations to maintain 100 per cent physical distancing between all shelter beds. As well, to date, the City has moved almost 290 people sleeping outside from more than 30 encampments to inside space, including hotels and interim and permanent housing.
Ontario Provides Additional Funding to Support Municipalities and Urban Indigenous Community Partners
The Ontario government is providing municipalities and urban Indigenous community partners with an additional $150 million to continue to protect vulnerable people from COVID-19 by improving homeless shelters and creating opportunities for longer-term housing.
Municipalities and urban Indigenous community partners will be able to use this funding for long-term, innovative housing solutions resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak. They can renovate shelters or purchase new facilities that will help with physical distancing in the short term and support longer-term, more sustainable solutions to homelessness. In addition, this funding could also be used to provide vulnerable people with food, shelter and supplies.
On June 30, the Government of Canada extended the Emergency Order requirements related to mandatory isolation and quarantine until August 31, 2020, for travellers entering Canada. Anyone entering Canada—whether by air, land or sea—will continue to be required to isolate for 14 days if they have COVID-19, or have reasonable grounds to suspect that they have signs and symptoms of COVID-19, or quarantine for 14 days if they do not have signs and symptoms of COVID-19. The Order also clarifies when travellers are required to wear a non-medical mask or face covering. This includes a new requirement for individuals who are otherwise exempt from quarantine to wear a non-medical mask or face covering when in public settings if physical distancing cannot be maintained.
Border measures prohibiting foreign nationals from entering Canada from any country other than the United States subject to certain limited exceptions—which are generally not applicable for optional or discretionary purposes, such as tourism, recreation and entertainment—have also been extended until July 31, 2020.
Border measures restricting all non-essential travel, including tourism and recreation, across the Canada-US border remain in effect until July 21, 2020.
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
Call if you develop symptoms!
Toronto Public Health Hotline
8:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Call if you have questions about COVID-19.
Outside City limits: 416-392-2489
Call if you have questions about City services, or to report people
Support for People Living with Homelessness
If you see someone living with homelessness and in need of support you can call Streets to Homes at 416-338-4766. For mental health support, the Gerstein Crisis Centre is a valuable 24-hours a day, seven days a week service in our community and they have crisis workers on standby at 416-929-5200. More resources, including additional how to report information, are available on my website at kristynwongtam.ca.
If you or someone else is confronted with life-threatening danger, please call 911 immediately. Alternatively, the Toronto Police request that online reports be submitted at torontopolice.on.ca/core or to torontopolice.on.ca/community-complaints. You can also call their non-emergency line at 416-808-2222. In the past, by diligently reporting criminal activity, residents were able to see our community policing and other service levels increase. You can do your part: see it, report it.