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.