The following is the full text of the letter to concerned residents, issued by The 519 on May 7:
I hope you and your loved ones are well during these difficult times. As a community centre dedicated to serving LGBTQ2S communities and our local neighbourhood, The 519 remains committed to responding to the most urgent needs of our communities during the COVID-19 Crisis. We know that the only way to achieve this is through working together.
Since the beginning of this crisis, The 519 has been providing essential services that are vital to the health and wellbeing of community members, including access to food, basic hygiene supplies, and clothing. We are also running daily phone check-ins to remain connected to isolated residents. In the coming days, we will be expanding our virtual supports to include crisis counselling, our legal clinics, and newcomer and refugee supports.
We share the concerns about the difficult circumstances the Village, and the rest of downtown, are facing in relation to increased levels of violence, threatening behaviours, and property damage. We are particularly worried about escalated levels of homophobia and transphobia that our community members, especially street-involved community members, are facing.
We know that many people feel unsafe right now. We understand that our provision of essential services can be at times disruptive and create additional stresses in the neighbourhood. But addressing safety does not mean stopping the provision of essential services. It means working together across the community on how to address safety and wellbeing for everyone.
We are committed to working with local residents, businesses, The City, Toronto Police, and other health and social service agencies to continue to provide these essential services while ensuring the least disruption possible. We are taking the following steps to help mitigate the disruptive impact of our services:
- We are bringing community issues and concerns to the attention of City staff on a daily basis and continue to advocate for increased resources and social supports for the Church- Wellesley Village.
- We have active security on site during our operating hours to help maintain physical distancing in our food line up and to de-escalate crisis.
- We are in conversations with Toronto Police Services on how to best maintain the safety of residents and service users.
- Our maintenance staff is cleaning Barbara Hall Park three times a day as it is not currently being maintained by Parks, Forestry & Recreation.
- We are doing our best to connect with new faces in the community and referring them to the services they need, including Streets to Homes.
- We are actively providing support and crisis de-escalation as best we can while maintaining appropriate health and safety measures.
- We are in daily conversation with partners across The Downtown East, coordinating service provision and sharing best practices on how to provide service that maintains the health, safety, and dignity of service users and the broader community.
- We are augmenting our online and phone supports, including counseling, legal clinics, anti-violence and crisis intervention, and newcomer refugee supports.
- We continue to be nimble and responsive and open to evolving our supports to best meet the growing needs and challenges faced by community members amidst COVID-19 and are continuously adjusting our service model to best meet these needs.
We are working with the City to respond to the needs of people experiencing homelessness in our community. We recognize that people need access to washroom facilities – for the purposes of washing up, personal dignity and privacy in washroom use. We have agreed to work with City Staff to provide washroom access within our building instead of using portable toilets in Barbara Hall Park. This service is:
- Managed and staffed by The City of Toronto. It will be cleaned and maintained to meet all required health and safety standards and staffed to provide client management and crisis de-escalation, and security staff.
- Mirrors The 519’s current hours of operations.
- Is accessible through the splash pad behind The 519.
- City-assigned staff will adhere to The 519’s LGBTQ2S positive space policies.
Through the conversations we have with service users, we know that for many we are their sole source of nutrition and basic needs support during these incredibly difficult times. As a community and as a neighbourhood, we have a long history of taking care of each other and the most vulnerable. We cannot lose sight of this. There is not ‘somewhere else’ for the most vulnerable to go. That somewhere else is here.
We are willing and able to take on much of the work of finding solutions to these difficult problems. But we can’t do it alone. We ask you to join us in understanding that community safety and providing basic needs to vulnerable people aren’t at odds with each other. Meeting basic needs puts our community in a better position to address the realities affecting The Village and the broader downtown today and puts us on better footing as we face the the long recovery ahead.
Thank you for your patience and understanding during these difficult times. If you have any questions or concerns, please get in touch with us at Community@The519.org and a member of our leadership team will get back to you as soon as possible.
Pride Toronto has announced a “Virtual Pride Month,” including an online parade instead of the usual massive celebration that takes over downtown Toronto the last Sunday of June.
“We are excited to announce that Pride Toronto will continue with June Pride celebrations in a new, creative, and unique way that ensures the safety of residents and proper physical distancing,” according to the press release.
The City will raise the Rainbow and Transgender Pride flags at City Hall for Pride Month. Rather than an in-person gathering, people are being invited to view a live stream of the flag raising on June 1 and to raise flags from their own balconies or windows.
Pride Toronto is also promising a month of online programming in June that will include DJs, performers, drag artists, singers, dancers and online parties.
The online Pride Parade – to be held at 2 p.m. on June 28 – will aim to capture the same spirit as the real world version held in years past.
“The queer and trans community will continue to trail-blaze and connect our community with innovative and exciting ideas. COVID-19 won’t stop us from continuing to create space for everyone to express who they truly are," Pride Toronto concluded.
.The COVID-19 pandemic has had an outsized effect on Toronto's homeless, placing an already stretched shelter system under enormous pressure as it attempts to implement social distancing measures. Out of a population of 8,000 people accessing the shelter system, between 2,000 and 3,000 people needed to be relocated in order to assure their health. City staff have found additional spaces through a combination of hotels, community spaces and vacant apartments. As of May 5, 1600 individuals had been moved from the shelter system to these safer spaces.
While the City has been working on the challenge, more homeless people have resorted to living in tents in public parks and other spaces. In the Village, the largest encampments have been in Barbara Hall Park and George Hislop Park.
While in normal times individuals would not be allowed to set up camp in city parks, these are far from normal times. The City has placed a moratorium on encampment evictions for the duration of the COVID-19 epidemic -- though it is now making some exemptions.
Encampments have led to their own set of safety and security issues for both those living outdoors and other members of the community, not the least of which is that effective COVID-19 prevention measures -- social distancing and regular hand washing -- are difficult to implement.
On April 29, Mayor John Tory announced a new interim housing program located in two connected, vacant mid-rise apartment buildings that had been slated for demolition. There is a total of 125 furnished units for clients, at no cost to them. They will be provided with on-site supports including meals, 24/7 staff support, security and case management focused on long-term housing and other immediate needs, including harm reduction supports.
According to the press release, "The City’s Streets to Homes outreach team, working with community partners, will approach individuals and couples who are sleeping outdoors for an opportunity to move into these units. Access to units will be prioritized for clients in encampment sites that present health and safety concerns and are identified as higher risk to COVID-19 related harms."
The mayor also announced a plan to create 110 modular supportive housing units on two City-owned sites. The new modular homes are expected to be ready for occupancy by September 2020.
[Update; On May 7, the 519 issued a letter addressed to concerned neighbours, regarding the "difficult circumstances the Village, and the rest of downtown, are facing in relation to increased levels of violence, threatening behaviours, and property damage" [see the full letter here] .
According to Councillor Wong-Tam's office:
There is currently a moratorium on encampment clearing during the pandemic. The City is amending this policy in line with current City bylaws that allow encampment clearings in emergencies to clear specific encampments focused on public property. The encampments that will be cleared are the ones where the City’s Streets to Homes outreach team, other divisions and partner agencies are approaching clients who sleep outdoors to offer spaces indoors in the interim housing program, shelter or hotels, as well as support to access permanent housing ...Ultimately, it is up to clients if they decide to move indoors to spaces offered to them. Outreach teams will continue to engage with clients at these sites. The City will not currently be clearing encampments on private property but is focused on specific encampments on City property including George Hislop Park.
The City-funded Streets to Homes team has worked tirelessly on behalf of the most marginalized in our community. City staff and local organizations, including Sanctuary and The 519, are also committed to finding solutions to homelessness in Toronto. Councillor Wong-Tam has advocated strongly, for years, for more resources from all levels of government to address homelessness and affordable housing.
While the latest initiatives will somewhat alleviate the immediate situation, more resources are needed from the federal, provincial and municipal governments. Unfortunately, it has taken an epidemic to bring to the fore the longstanding interwoven crises of addiction, mental illness and homelessness in Canada. Let's hope that measures taken now will lead to more permanent solutions.
[For more news on the homelessness and encampments situation, see Ward 13 News Updates (often under the title 'COVID-19 Update']
On March 27, two Cresford Developments condo projects in the neighbourhood (and a third one in Yorkville) were placed in receivership at the request of lenders, who alleged financial mismanagement.
The Clover at 599 Yonge Street, between Dundonald and Gloucester, is partially completed and it is likely another developer will take over the project in the near future. Cresford was responsible for rebuilding the park adjacent to The Clover, James Canning Gardens, While there may be a delay in the park construction, work should soon recommence.
The other local project under receivership is Halo, at the southwest corner of Yonge and Grosvenor (notable for the preserved historic clock tower). This project is still a hole in the ground, so if may take longer for another developer to step in and take the project over.
As a part of the receivership process, it is possible that those who purchased condo units pre-construction will have the sale cancelled and deposits refunded.
The receivership documents are available on the Price Waterhouse Cooper website.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected each of us, as well as the collective lives of our Village, our city and our country. As you know, social distancing and self isolation are the key to reducing infections, hospitalizations and deaths. As we battle the epidemic, it's important to remind ourselves that this too shall pass. Until then, please refer to the COVID-19 information resources below.
Toronto.ca COVID-19 - The City's website provides daily updates on the current health situation and links to health advice, affected city services and available social support services.
Ward 13 COVID-19 Updates - Daily dispatches from Councillor Wong-Tam's office, with a local focus. Also available by e-mail.
Ontario.ca Novel Corona Virus - The province's webpage provides a daily update on the number and status of COVID-19 cases in Ontario, self assessments, practical information and links to daily news releases.
Ontario Public Health - Fact sheets on various aspects of protecting yourself and others, available in several languages.
Canada Public Health - Information on COVID-19 at the national level.
Canada's COVID-19 Economic Response Plan - financial support for individuals and businesses, including the Emergency Response Benefit.
506 to 516 Church Street, which is now occupied by Crews & Tangos, Boutique Bar and a Target Park parking lot, will be radically transformed in the coming years.
The properties are owned by Graywood Group, a Toronto-based real estate developer. Graywood is undertaking preliminary consultations with community stakeholders, a precursor to a development proposal that will likely be submitted to the City later this year.
According to a representative for Graywood, "the vision for this site is to introduce a mix of uses, including retail and residential. The development proposal is early in the process and Graywood is committed to working closely with the community as this proposal progresses through the development application process."
In meetings with Graywood, Councillor Wong-Tam has strongly advocated for the Village's character, safe spaces and LGBTQ2S+ communities. According to her office, she in particular requested that Graywood meet with Crews & Tangos and Boutique Bar to discuss extending their leases as well as the possibility of returning to the space post-development. Graywood agreed to a two-year lease extension so that the businesses can continue to operate during the planning stage.
On March 17, Greywood and Crews / Tangos released a joint statement outlining an agreement to keep the bars in the new development. The full text is below:
Statement re: Church Street development on behalf of Graywood Developments and Michael Ramawad of Crews & Tangos
As many are aware, Graywood Developments has recently acquired the 506-516 Church St. properties. Part of this development site includes the location of Toronto’s beloved drag bar, Crews & Tangos. Since acquiring the property, Graywood has been in dialogue with business owner Michael Ramawad, as well as local Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam regarding the future of the business.
While the spread of COVID-19 and the immediate safety of our friends, patrons and community members remains top of mind, Michael and the team at Graywood Developments felt it was important to address the long term viability of Crews & Tangos. The significant challenges before us do not diminish the fact that the future of Crews & Tangos remains a vital concern for many.
Though the development process has just started, it has always been Graywood’s intention to continue working collaboratively with the community to respect and honour the fabric of Toronto’s Gay Village. Graywood and Michael have been in constant, productive dialogue since Graywood acquired the property. To ensure the Church-Wellesley and LGBTQ2S+ community do not lose an inclusive, safe space, the Crews & Tangos lease has been extended for two years during which time regular operations will continue (notwithstanding any potential interruptions due to the impact of COVID-19).
We are also happy to announce that Graywood Developments and Michael Ramawad are exploring a joint plan aimed at maintaining a presence for Crews & Tangos in the future, new development. In the coming weeks Michael Ramawad will join Graywood in meetings with key neighbourhood and community organizations in an effort to solidify the community engagement process. Any and all meetings will follow protocols set forth by local health authorities amidst the spread of COVID-19.
“Over the past few weeks, the outpouring of emotion towards Crews & Tangos has been incredibly heartwarming. Crews & Tangos has been a home to me for more than 10 years now,” says Michael Ramawad, Owner, Crews & Tangos.
“It was the first place I was comfortable enough to come out and to live my truth. I’ve witnessed proposals, weddings, and people’s journeys as they discovered a place where they felt safe and accepted. Crews & Tangos means as much to me as it does to you, and together, with Graywood, we are committed to finding a solution to maintain this crucial space for the LGBTQ2S+ community.”
“Since the beginning of this process, we’ve been very fortunate to listen to and learn from Michael. While we understood the significance of this venue, Michael has deepened our appreciation about how valuable this space is for LGBTQ2S+ community members,” says Christine Yee, Director of Development, Graywood. “Though we are still early in the process we are committed to working with Michael and the community to preserve and maintain the cultural heritage and legacy of Crews & Tangos.”
The Graywood project is still in the pre-application stage. Further discussions with the City and stakeholder groups, including the CWNA, will take place before Graywood submits a development application. At that point, more community consultations will be undertaken and City staff will report on how the application fits with the City's Official Plan and urban design guidelines, which call for low- to mid-rise buildings along Church Street.
CWNA's lane naming project continues, adding character and history to previously anonymous alleys.
Dapper Lane at 66 Wellesley E. - The intersection of Church and Wellesley is a hub for barbers whose skills are well known throughout the city. For decades barbers have practiced their trade here, ensuring decades of loyal customers. What better way to recognize their talent and dedication than with a lane named in their honour.
Anvil Alley at 511 Church St. celebrates the long tradition of small businesses in the Village. Dudley's Hardware, founded in 1934, continues to provide an invaluable service to the community. Dudley's exemplifies the positive attitude and commitment of small business owners in our Village.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam officiated the naming ceremony on January 24.
After the unveiling of the new signs, Dudley's Hardware hosted a community social.
There are many reasons the CWNA has been proactive in getting alleys in our neighbourhood named. The Laneway Project, a Toronto not-for-profit dedicated to improving and activating laneways, summarizes them as:
Safety and Security - A laneway with a name helps police, fire and paramedic services find it in the event of an emergency;
Commemorating History - Naming a laneway after a noteworthy person, place, event, etc. is encouraged under Toronto’s street naming policy, and it helps preserve history;
Placemaking - Naming a laneway gives the lane an identity, and creates a sense of place, which also serves to invite more pedestrian traffic, making it safer;
Community Building - The collaborative process of naming a laneway helps build community connections, good will, and a feeling of neighbourhood pride;
Laneway Improvements - A laneway with a name opens the door to further laneway improvements, such as beautification and community events.
Since its founding in 2010, the CWNA has taken the lead in naming ten lanes in our neighbourhood. The next one, located just east of Church, running south from Isabella.
The Independent Civilian Review into Missing Persons Investigations, led by former Court of Appeal Judge Gloria Epstein, was formed to address concerns about the way the Toronto Police Service conducts missing persons investigations, particularly when the missing people belong to vulnerable or marginalized communities or communities that have legacy issues with the Toronto Police Service.
The Review was established following the conviction of serial killer Bruce McArthur for the murder of eight men who had connections to Toronto’s LGBTQ2S+ community.
One of the Review’s most recent initiatives was to launch an anonymous online survey to allow for anyone with experience or perspectives on the issue of policing in Toronto to be heard. This means that you can participate and have your opinion considered in the final determination on what recommendations the Review should make for the Toronto Police Service going forward.
The anonymous survey can be found at: https://missingpersonsurvey.ca/
In December, Manulife Investment Management submitted a development application for a 59 storey rental tower at Church and Charles, where the 7 storey Traders Building presently stands.
Manulife had held two community consultations in the preceeding months. At the second community consultation on October 2, Manulife polled community members as to whether they would choose to preserve the current building's facade or to have the building demolished in exchange for more green space.
Subsequent to that meeting, Manulife submitted its proposal to the City. The development would be a 59-storey mixed-use building, inclusive of a 6-storey podium which preserves the facade of the Traders Building. The building will house commercial tenants on the lower levels, with 651 residential units in the tower.
For more information, see the City's Development Application page, and consult our Inteactive Map. https://tinyurl.com/vgkmfjj
Downtown has experienced huge growth over the past decade, making the sidewalks on Yonge Street busy -- and crowded.
The City of Toronto is carrying out Phase 1 of a study that focusses on the section of Yonge Street from Queen Street to College / Carlton Street. (Phase 2, continuing north to Davenport, will follow upon completion of Phase 1.) A number of opportunities will be considered to increase pedestrian space and improve the way people experience Yonge Street.
A second public information session about the project was held on November 21, but in case you missed it, check out the online version of the display boards, which map out the process and illustrate various redesign options. The main decision: how much of the street to dedicate to vehicles, pedestrians and bikes.
The study is in the environmental assessment stage; stakeholders are being consulted via an Advisory Group. We will update you as more details are made public.
There is also more information on the City of Toronto YongeTOmorrow pages.