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E-BLAST: Tackling Homelessness in Don Valley North

Toronto has been struggling with homelessness for decades. Even before the global pandemic began, Mayor Tory and Council made a commitment to deal with overcrowding in our shelter system. While working to create 40,000 affordable homes across all types of housing, the Mayor also committed to create 1,000 net new shelter beds by the end of this term of office.

Toronto has an acute housing shortage, which allows landlords and owners to capture maximum value for any type of housing. At the same time, our public social housing corporation has a waitlist of over 78,000 after twenty years of underfunding. This leaves those experiencing deep poverty without any housing options at all.

While the majority of our shelters are located downtown, we need them across the city to best help shelter residents access the affordable housing and employment opportunities they need to transition out of homelessness.

The pandemic, of course, added an extra set of challenges to our existing housing and homelessness crises. COVID-19 spread very quickly through our shelter system due to overcrowding. Toronto Public Health and our Shelter, Support & Housing Administration (SSHA) moved quickly to move shelter residents into emergency leased hotels that were able to support necessary COVID-19 safety measures such as social distancing. With funding help from the Federal Government, over twenty of these hotels have set up temporary programs for residents including health supports, harm reduction services, COVID-19 testing arrangements, and vaccination programs.

In Don Valley North, the Edward Village Hotel is being used temporarily as a shelter with 296 rooms. SSHA has a lease on this hotel and others like it until April 2022. Our operating partner Fred Victor Housing, local services agencies, and our local police Division 33 have been working with the shelter residents to mitigate the impact on the surrounding community, and we saw some improvement over the summer.

However well these hotels have been managed, they are not meant to be permanent and we know that they are far from the ideal situation. From decades of running a shelter system since the first big growth in homelessness in the eighties, we know that a shelter works best at 100 residents or fewer. This allows residents to receive the specialized supports they need to address whatever is making them unable to maintain a lease and stay employed. Many of the emergency hotels in use for the pandemic have over 200 rooms. This is necessary to accommodate public health measures, but ultimately this is far too many residents to run an effective program indefinitely.

The above graph shows the cumulative number of residents who entered the shelter system each month (year to date) in 2020 and 2021. Click on the graph to view it in detail.

The spaces in our temporary shelters also do not count towards Mayor Tory’s original commitment to create 1,000 new shelter beds in our system. So what about those 1,000 additional beds for after the pandemic? SSHA has continued to work on expansion across the city. They hope these new facilities will be ready early next year when shelter residents who have not yet found permanent housing need to be moved out of the temporary hotel accommodations.

Residents in the east end of Don Valley North will receive a notice this week of a new facility that SSHA has purchased on Placer Court near McNicoll Ave. They are hoping to open this shelter with one of their operating parnters, Homes First Society, in early 2022 with 58 beds. The absolute maximum at this facility would be 87 beds, well within the SSHA optimum guidelines.

A rendering of 101 Placer Court.

Toronto’s employment opportunities and its affordable rental housing are spread across the city. This means our 1000 new shelter beds also need to be spread across the city. It’s the best way to provide the kinds of support that help shelter residents find their way out of the system and into their own permanent homes.

City Council has given SSHA staff the authority to create new shelters, so the shelter at Placer Court isn’t something that we’re going to vote on at Council. However, SSHA and their operating partner, Homes First Society, will be hosting a community feedback session on Wednesday, October 6 from 6:30 – 8:30 PM. They would like to meet with the neighbouring community and businesses to describe the program at Placer Court and share information on how the city is helping homeless individuals make their way into permanent homes.

While my office isn’t running this consultation, I want to make sure people can easily access the information they need to join this community meeting. Sign up for our list on my website and we will send you the link once it’s available, which will be 24 hours before the meeting takes place. I hope you will tune in to this meeting not just as one of many who may live nearby, but to learn more about what we can do to end homelessness and rebuild lives in our city.


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