My office has received reports from some residents concerned about the conditions outside of Sanctuary Toronto located at 25 Charles Street East, citing drug trafficking, garbage dumping, random violence, theft, graffiti, escalating security costs and the associated impacts on the usability of the adjacent park and sidewalks.
I take these concerns seriously and have been working with residents, City staff, Toronto Police and Sanctuary Toronto to find a balanced, compassionate approach to provide the necessary support to help the individuals using Sanctuary Toronto’s services, while still providing a safe environment for all residents.
Since November 19, 2019 I have hosted 4 meetings with residents and business operators from Charles St E, staff from Toronto Police, Streets to Homes, Toronto Public Health, Parks Ambassadors and other stakeholders including the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association to identify solutions and next steps.
After residents requested additional and accelerated police responses in the area, I formally submitted a letter to Toronto Police 51 Division requesting that they expand the Neighbourhood Officer coverage for the area, Increasing foot and bike patrol along Charles Street East, between Yonge and Church including George Hislop Park.
In response to my request, Streets to Homes mobilized their resources quickly and have made 50 interactions with individuals staying in tents outside of Sanctuary over a period of two weeks to offer housing and shelter. I am grateful to learn that most of these individuals are now in shelters and City staff also reported that three new housing applications were completed. This is a big achievement given the vulnerability and lack of proper ID of those staying in the tents.
In recognition of the heightened need for supports in this area, I am also proud to announce that I was able to secure funding for the recommendations and actions contained in the Five-Year Downtown East Action Plan as part of this year’s budget. This ongoing funding will support the much needed service enhancements in the area.
With that said, we must be mindful that the City is facing a homelessness crisis that requires a co-ordinated intergovernmental, human rights-based response. Frontline housing workers are reporting a dramatic new wave of homelessness and under-housing. In 2018, there are approximately 181,000 people on Toronto’s Centralized Waiting List, managed by Access to Housing. Toronto Public Health recorded 150 deaths of individuals experiencing homelessness, from January 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019.
Sanctuary Toronto is a Christian charitable organization governed independently by a Board of Directors and their work is carried out by staff and volunteers. The Sanctuary raises money from private donors to run their operations and has not applied for, nor do they receive any funding from the City of Toronto.
All of my work and that of City staff are being carried out despite the fact that Sanctuary is not a City of Toronto funded agency and has no formal relationship with the City. We also have committed to helping the staff of Sanctuary develop a long-term strategic plan to improve their service delivery and community relations. I will continue to meet and monitor the situation closely.
I am grateful that many of the residents at 33 Charles Street East for supportive comments on the work that Sanctuary does.
I have, and will continue to bring more attention to our housing and homelessness crisis at City Council. I am proud that Council adopted my motions to create and fund the Downtown East Action Plan, build more affordable and supportive housing starting this year, and to begin looking at expropriating lands to be used for affordable housing.
City Council continues to refuse to declare homelessness an emergency, which I believe would mobilize the federal and provincial governments to take immediate action and provide the emergency and necessary resources we need to make to house people and make our streets safe for everyone. Until then, I will energetically carry out my work the best that I can given the limited options to quickly build housing we have at City Hall.
Please join me and add your name to my petition calling on City Council to Declare Toronto's Homelessness and Housing Crisis a State of Emergency!