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How the City's social services are helping us weather the pandemic

Towards the end of Summer 2020, I asked our Deputy City Manager of Community and Social Services if she could have all of her divisions report on the current state of their services to the committee where I am a member.

The Economic and Community Development Committee is chaired by Councillor Michael Thompson, and he agreed wholeheartedly that after months of responding to the pandemic, we should know if these departments were going to be able to cope.

No one expected the City's state of emergency to go on for so long. And let me be clear: I want Mayor Tory to keep following the daily advice from our Medical Officer of Health, as he has done faithfully since the beginning of the year.

However, at this point, all of Council needs to deeply understand the City's current state of operations. Councillors and their teams field daily questions about services like child care, long-term care, seniors services, recreation, social services and employment supports from residents trying to cope. As the second wave of the virus intensifies, we need a clear picture of what's needed to keep these services going for the next few months.

The report

The report I requested has arrived in the form of a slide deck. You can scroll through it here — I think it's worth your time.

There is a heck of a lot going on to support Torontonians through the pandemic. The only two divisions that weren't included in this presentation are Economic Development and Shelter Supports. That's because they have been reporting in detail on their work to support small businesses and the homelessness crisis, respectively.

I hope folks will pay special attention to these three slides that summarize how the City's social services have responded to the pandemic from March to November. These illustrate why it has, at times, been a challenge to keep all other services and 311 responses ticking along as normal.

Where we're at now

So this brings us to where we are now: deep in a second wave of this pandemic.

We've all heard of pandemic fatigue. We ignore the daily reports and get on with our lives, and pretty soon fatigue turns into downright complacency. Look at it this way: we've now had two weeks in a row where Ontario saw more than 7000 cases in seven days. Toronto alone has had more than 2200 of those. Hospital ICU spaces are at capacity again and PPE are being rationed.

A few months ago we mourned each long-term care outbreak and organized support rallies. Last week, it was reported that 29 residents of Kennedy Lodge had died in a span of two weeks — and the news was buried in a daily update article rather being a headline. I sincerely hope the only reason Premier Ford is hesitating to introduce the most stringent measures is because he is making arrangements for the economic supports that will be necessary. Let his disregard of advice from the joint medical officers of health — where he announced dangerously lax guidelines — be a one-time lapse. We all have to knuckle down and do what the doctors say right now before it's too late.

What you can do Make plans now for an altered holiday season. School boards may soon announce an early winter break. Sit down and talk about how that will work in your family so you're prepared if we hear such an announcement. If you have holiday shopping, do it safely and do it now if you can afford to. If you know someone older who is not tech-savvy, maybe your gift to them could help them with that. I’ll bet that small gesture will mean everything. Religious services will be limited, and I know it's hard not being able to visit your places of worship with your friends and family. Instead, try calling your loved ones and asking them to watch the service online with you at the same time. It's a great way to feel that sense of community while still being safe in your own separate homes.

Every year I have the Don Valley North team over to my house for Secret Santa. But, like I said, it’s an altered holiday season. We’ve already drawn the names and we've promised to mail gifts to each other by December 7th. On December 17th, we’ll have a Zoom Christmas party and unwrap gifts online. I hope you will be just as cautious. We're doing everything we can to keep everyone safe and healthy.


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