I haven’t followed the story as it related to New Toronto closely but was interested to read a recent report prepared for the City of Toronto. The report in question concerns the site that almost became a shelter at 2950 & 2970 Lake Shore Blvd. West, and the need for greater shelter supports in the Lakeshore community.
WHAT WE HEARD FROM COMMUNITY STAKEHOLDERS – SUMMARY OF FEEDBACK REGARDING USE OF SITE
A clear preference of resident/ratepayer associations, people with lived experience, and service providers was for affordable housing designed with adequate transitional supports to be at 2950 & 2970 Lake Shore Boulevard West. The use of a “Housing First” model was supported as a long-term solution that needs to be prioritized. This viewpoint was emphasized by a majority of stakeholder participants.
Differences of opinion were heard with respect to the site as solely a community shelter. Fewer community members favoured a shelter at this location. Some stakeholders suggested a mixed model where there could be a smaller shelter component, in order to serve immediate needs in the neighbourhood. In particular, there was a widely held recognition of the need for affordable housing for families in the neighbourhood.
COMMUNITY SERVICES NEEDED TO SUPPORT THE POTENTIAL SHELTER AND/OR HOUSING PROJECT
While there are two shelters serving women in the immediate community, there are no shelters in South Etobicoke to meet different and increasing population needs. Service providers and frontline workers who track needs and gaps in the community stressed the growing need for affordable living spaces, which are lacking for many segments of the population. Shelters are seen as a temporary solution, and it was noted that a shelter was needed, at least in the interim, to assist in getting people off the streets and away from sleeping in doorways and alleyways. Certain groups in the community were noted as particularly vulnerable.
The information below relates to the motion from Councillor Grimes, which called for identification of necessary community services required to support the potential shelter and/or affordable housing at the site. Community partners identified the following challenges faced by various vulnerable populations in the New Toronto Area. Below are some of the insights provided by the key stakeholder groups:
Associations representing residents were strongly opposed to a shelter at this location; however, they supported a shelter at another location in the neighborhood or ward. If the site must be a shelter, community members asked that it be a dignified space, as there is already so much pain in being homeless.
Homelessness continues to increase as rents become more unaffordable. Organizations such as Jean Tweed, LAMP, and Haven on the Queensway shared their experiences regarding an increase in overdoses and increased injury and death from overdoses.
Growing hunger and food insecurity is being seen by many community organizations. Families and seniors were seen to be in desperate need of supported affordable housing. Service providers estimated that approximately 30% of families in the community are under-housed or living with other families and cited examples of infestations of bugs, rodents, and poor building maintenance. Several service providers shared that The Children’s Aid Society is often called into homes due to unsafe housing conditions.
People are being forced to leave their community in South Etobicoke to find shelter elsewhere in the City or outside of Toronto. This resulted in them losing their local support system, losing access to mental health services, and creating a deeper sense of isolation.
More single men are found to be sleeping rough in the community. Service providers estimated that approximately 40% of men leaving the Toronto South Detention Centre have nowhere to go, but remain in the community.
Women remain in the shelter system much longer than they need to because there is a housing crisis. Women’s Habitat reported having turned away at least 300 women during the spring outbreak of COVID-19. As a result, some women are forced to remain in violent domestic relationships or life threatening situations.
Women trying to exit human trafficking situations are often forced to stay in hotels at this time, due to distancing requirements in many shelters. This creates unsafe conditions and poses threats to their safety. Young women in particular are vulnerable and have been seen sleeping rough in the neighbourhood.
Artists in the New Toronto area find themselves precariously housed and in need of studio spaces for their work. The artist groups met with estimate that approximately 40% of artists in the area are living at or below the poverty line.
Stakeholder groups spoke of the economic challenges they witnessed and that those challenges are exacerbated for people who were already struggling with unemployment, addictions, food insecurity, precarious housing, and mental health concerns. Many felt they are in serious trouble and heading for possible homelessness.
Many stakeholders expressed worry about this coming winter. With cold weather approaching, some people in the neighborhood have nowhere to go and cannot get inside to find places to warm up, get hot food, or attend to personal hygiene needs. There is also a great need for public washrooms available for people who are living on the streets, at all times of the year.
People experiencing homelessness or precarious housing expressed fear that existing crime in the neighbourhood can make them a target. They are at risk of getting pulled into criminal activity, or, having no safe place to be, can be a target of violence.
The residents/ratepayers associations and the local BIA opposed the location of the potential shelter site. They expressed concern that the location of the site on the main street of the neighbourhood would negatively impact existing businesses and impede the potential for improved conditions in the small commercial strip in the area.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR COMMUNITY SERVICES NEEDED TO SUPPORT THE POTENTIAL SHELTER AND/OR HOUSING AT THE SITE
Many of the concerns raised by stakeholders centered on broader community concerns that are currently in existence and were not solely related to the proposed shelter and/or affordable housing project. In order for a shelter or affordable housing project to be successful in the neighbourhood, these broader community needs and challenges should be addressed by various stakeholders from multiple sectors. All key stakeholders indicated that there are not enough supports for people experiencing homelessness in South Etobicoke.
The community stakeholder groups identified the following recommendations to improve life for all residents:
Increased mental health supports must be put in place immediately.
More food banks to respond to increasing levels of food insecurity are required.
An immediate replacement or substitute for the Out of the Cold Program during COVID-19 is critical.
Additional shelter space is required to meet the needs of various populations and to address the lack of shelter beds in South Etobicoke, if only until adequate affordable housing is available.
More opportunities to connect with the community are needed. Schools particularly noted the critical need to have better communication flow between schools, principals and parents. This has also been affected by the pandemic, with principals stretched to implement changing requirements and ensure their students are kept safe.
SUPPORTS AND SERVICES FOR HOUSING AND INTEGRATION
Transitional program models must be implemented to move people from homelessness to living independently in the community.
Affordable housing units with three and four bedroom units, needed to accommodate larger families, are required.
Seniors living in the community need more targeted services and supports so they can age in place, particularly if experiencing age-related cognitive decline, such as dementia.
The living conditions of newcomers must be addressed, given the risk of long-term health impacts associated with their desperate living conditions.
COMMUNITY SAFETY AND WELLBEING
Street outreach workers are essential for people experiencing homelessness.
Harm reduction programs are needed to address increased drug use and the rising number of overdoses and death as a result of drug overdose being reported in the community.
Public washroom facilities that are easily accessible all year round are needed. Because there are no public washrooms for them to access, people, in desperation, will urinate, etc., in public areas, such as in parks and on the street.
Crime prevention initiatives and an increase in police presence in the area is required. The community recommends more street patrols and a satellite police station located in the neighbourhood.