In early June, the encampment at Barbara Hall Park was cleared, with individuals offered assistance in moving to much safer and fully serviced accommodations.
The encampment at George Hislop Park was more challenging. While the City had successfully relocated some people to better accommodations, more tents would soon appear to replace those that had been vacated.
Some Charles Street residents grew so frustrated that a single-purpose community group was founded, the Charles Area Network Alliance (CAN Alliance). The CAN Alliance undertook a media campaign and lobbied Mayor Tory, who appeared for an inspection in late June.
People living in George Hislop Park were relocated to supportive housing in early July and the park was completely fenced off at Charles and Isabella Streets. The reasons the City has given for closing the park is for "sod and irrigation improvements." The park will eventually be completely renovated, which would mean it could be inaccessible for up to three years.
- Progress on Park Encampments ;
- City Grapples with COVID-19 Homelessness and Encampments
Greywood Developments -- which announced earlier this year that it was planning on developing 506 to 516 Church Street (now Crews & Tangos, Boutique Bar and a Target Park surface lot) -- has released a preliminary concept for the site and will hold an online information session on Thursday, July 16.
The illustration for the proposal shows a 16 storey stepped backed design, preserving the Crews & Tango heritage building. The lease of Crews & Tango has been extended for two years and the developer has committed to working with the owners of Crews & Tangos with regards to the future development. See more background in our previous post.
At this online session there will not be an opportunity for live questions, but you can submit questions in advance through the project website and frequently asked questions will be posted on the FAQ section of the website.
This is only a preliminary information sharing event as the developer has not yet submitted an application to the City. Once a proposal is submitted, the City will conduct further public consultations.
Visit www.506churchstreet.com for instructions on joining the Webex event on July 16, 6:30 to 7:30 pm.
So much attention is paid to our beloved Church Street that the other main drag -- Wellesley -- sometimes seems like a second thought. As part of our 10 year anniversary, CWNA is giving some TLC to our oft overlooked east-west corridor.
We're focussing on small, doable improvements that will come together to make Wellesley a more pleasant street to walk.
There are ten concrete street planters between Yonge and Jarvis. Over the years, most have been neglected. Two, by Paul Kane Park, are cared for by Parks and Forestry. Two others, at the intersection of Church, are planted each summer with annuals by the The Village BIA. CWNA will be improving the remaining planters, so that within a few weeks all ten will be in fine form. Check out our web page to learn more about the Wellesley Planters project.
We'll also be weeding the beds of street trees along Wellesley and notifying the city of any sick trees that need replacing.
Piece by piece, the placemaking volunteers of CWNA are doing their part to make Wellesley wonderful!.
As reported previously, the COVID-19 pandemic has driven vulnerable populations, who would normally access an already overburdened shelter system, to living outdoors. While the City has taken significant steps to find alternative housing options and has started to help move people from tents to buildings, there are still many encampments throughout the city. In the Village, the largest encampments have been in Barbara Hall Park and George Hislop Park.
Because of the pandemic, the municipal government had placed a moratorium on encampment evictions. However, the encampments have led to their own set of safety and security issues for both those living outdoors and residents in the surrounding community: effective COVID-19 prevention measures like social distancing and regular hand washing are difficult to implement; basic sanitation has been a challenge; and there has been an increase in anti-social behaviour. Some residents who live near the parks feel unsafe; others who would normally use and enjoy the parks, avoid them. For all these reasons, exceptions are being made to the no-evictions policy.
In early June, the encampment at Barbara Hall Park was successfully cleared, with individuals offered assistance in moving to much safer and fully serviced accommodations. As of June 18, there are no tents in Barbara Hall Park. More residents are now using the park as intended and there have been two Sunday morning community clean-ups.
The encampment at George Hislop Park and the adjacent private property, owned by Sanctuary Ministries, has so far not been cleared. While some people have been successfully relocated to better accommodations, more tents soon appear in the vacated park spaces.
The longstanding failure of federal, provincial and municipal governments to prioritize housing affordability, homelessness, mental health and addiction has led to the current encampments situation. CWNA supports the measures taken so far to address the immediate crisis, but much more needs to be done.
[For news on the homelessness and encampments situation, see Ward 13 News Updates (usually under the title 'Encampments' or 'COVID 19 Updates']
Summer 2020 should have been the beginning of a Church Street Renaissance. Through 2019 and early this year many vacant storefronts had been renovated and found new tenants. Scaffolding came down, new paint jobs freshened up exteriors and heritage facades regained their former glory. The future looked especially bright with a long-awaited plan to redesign Church Street getting underway.
Then COVID-19 happened.
As in the rest of the country, the pandemic has had a profound effect on Church Street businesses. Non-essential retail operations have only recently been allowed to get back up and running with curb-side service. Restaurants have been reduced to take-out and delivery orders, and are still waiting for the go-ahead to start patio table service. Bars haven't been open for months, and many have been boarded up to prevent break-ins. Businesses hoping for a break on their rent have been out of luck, with landlords opting not to take advantage of the federal commercial rent relief program.
So what can we expect on Church Street this summer, usually the busiest and more festive season of the year?
With summer underway, the street is looking cheerier, thanks to splashes of colour from floral hanging baskets and planters freshly filled with annuals, courtesy the Church Wellesley Village BIA. And those boarded up windows are now in the process of being transformed into eye-catching murals, another BIA innovation.
Most important, more people are coming out on the street, taking advantage of the warmer weather and offering a hint of that familiar Church Street vibe. To accommodate social distancing, some of the street parking lanes have been temporarily converted to pedestrians only through the CurbTO program, and there may be more pedestrianization in store. The provincial and city governments are cutting red tape so that, when restaurants and bars start serving again, they can more readily get extra patio space.
Everyone, especially those whose income hasn't been affected by the pandemic, can help by patronizing local restaurants for take out and delivery and by making an extra effort to shop Church. While Church Street will not be the same this summer, if we all do our part the Village main street will endure -- and flourish another day.
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. [Update: In June 2020 Concord Pacific took over The Clover project and construction continues.]
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.