Temporary housing for homeless in old Toronto hotel leads to safety concerns
Two temporary housing programs in Midtown Toronto have been the subject of much public attention this week following several concerning incidents involving residents, including an overdose death, a stabbing and a fire.
The two housing programs are located at 55/65 Broadway Avenue and the old Roehampton Hotel, and were introduced as a way to rehouse those experiencing homelessness in a safe way amid the pandemic.
But members of the public and local politicians have expressed many concerns about the expedited process that led to their establishment as well as a lack of security measures on site.
An increase in thefts, break-ins, drug paraphernalia and a lack of social distancing have also been reported in the area by community members in recent days.
Please check out the Roehampton hotel. There’s no mask wearing, nor social distancing there at the homeless shelter especially in front of building and in neighborhood. Mass gatherings and needles everywhere is what’s occurring in midtown instead— F. Mrk (@fmphotodesign) August 4, 2020
"The City recognizes that these incidents, along with other unacceptable incidents in the community, are upsetting to residents and businesses," reads a statement published by the city Friday morning in response to community concerns.
While the Broadway Avenue program is scheduled to close at the end of this month (the city says they're working to rehouse all residents there), what was initially supposed to be a temporary program at the Roehampton has since turned into a more long-term solution.
City staff recently negotiated a two-year lease to occupy the hotel, with an option to extend for a third.
"The duration of the shelter occupancy should have triggered additional steps from City Staff prior to residents moving into the site as was customary with other locations prior to COVID-19. When I learned about the lease agreement, I immediately asked city staff about what their communications plan to the public would be," said city councillor Josh Matlow in a statement about the situation.
"I was told that they weren't putting out prior notice on any of their sites throughout the city during the emergency. I strongly disagree with that approach as it ultimately leads to less transparency, and more anxiety," he continued.
"City Staff should have provided advance notification and information to residents given the length of the lease at the Roehampton Hotel. More importantly, a plan to address the impacts of the behavior of some new residents on the surrounding community should have been put in place prior to occupancy."
We are going through a pandemic, along with a housing and opioid crisis. This cannot be ignored and we cannot succumb to fear. We also must expect that community safety be fully and immediately addressed by the City. Please see my update here: https://t.co/H5tkI3Og0T https://t.co/Ya7wAUDzq0— Josh Matlow (@JoshMatlow) August 7, 2020
But the city says that while an engagement process for the community in advance is preferred, "the rapid nature of the response and critical need to protect people experiencing homelessness" simply did not allow for it.
"The fast pace of establishing this site has led to frustration for some residents and the City is actively working to address concerns raised by the community to ensure the safety of residents, clients and staff at the sites," the city acknowledged.
At Matlow's request, the city is hosting an online community town hall on Wednesday, Aug. 19 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. featuring a brief presentation on the Roehampton Hotel, an update on enhanced community supports and a question period for participants.
The city says a community engagement team is also working with Matlow to establish a "Community Liaison Committee" in order to provide resident representatives, businesses and community organizations with an opportunity to be actively involved in identifying concerns so that the city can quickly address issues.
Absolutely realize there has to be a place for the homeless during the pandemic but if Roehampton stays for a few years these safety measures have to be significantly enhanced. Despite reassurances & supposed safety measures the city has put in place there remain safety concerns https://t.co/n2uZmtjItN— Shelley Laskin (@shelleylaskin) August 7, 2020
Security protocols already currently in place at the site include routine perimeter walks of the property by security guards, a community safety team picking up hazards such as needles and monitoring 24/7 for inappropriate activity, City of Toronto corporate security mobile patrols, 33 cameras throughout the site, and Toronto Police Services’' Community Response Unit visiting the site regularly.
Additional safety measures and community supports set to be implemented as soon as possible, on the other hand, include physician, nursing, psychiatric supports and harm reduction services; a safety and security plan for when school resumes; and additional full-time housing workers who will provide individualized supports, housing search assistance and refer clients to other supports as needed.
"Our community understands and supports the need to provide shelter for vulnerable people in Toronto — and certainly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic along with an opioid and housing crisis," Matlow said.
"There must also be space to openly and honestly address the way the city managed the opening of the shelters and real behavioral impacts on our community."
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