Toronto hotel-shelter winter closure causes ‘chaos’ for some, say advocates – Toronto

With a week to go before homeless residents leave a Toronto hotel-turned-shelter, some say they don’t know where they will end up once they have to move, while advocates say the timing means the many could be left to fend for themselves. for themselves in the cold.

The shelter site of the former Novotel Hotel Center in downtown Toronto was leased by the city after the pandemic.

The city began using hotels for homeless people after hundreds fled shelters in March 2020 for fear of contracting COVID-19. Hotels provided an alternative to the encampments that were popping up in parks and provided additional space for physical distancing.

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Now, however, site owner Novotel intends to convert the site back into a hotel in the new year, the city said. Residents have been notified they must move by Dec. 6, with the city saying it is working with them to find alternative shelters or permanent accommodation.

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But people who live at the site, as well as those who work with them, say not all residents were able to find alternative accommodation before the deadline.

« I’m really, really scared. Right now there’s no plan in place, » said Betty Ames, who has been staying at the Novotel shelter for six months.

« I don’t want to be outside, it wasn’t in my plan. »

Ames, who works as an overdose prevention worker, said she could not enter a group shelter because of a heart condition that could put her health at risk. She said she was offered an apartment at one point but was not allowed to visit it before signing a lease, so she declined. She said she has since been trying to find accommodation on her own, to no avail.

If she can’t find a safe place to go by December 6, Ames will likely set up a tent outside.

“I am full of fear,” she said. « I have to fight the tears at least 100 times a day. »

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The Novotel refuge hotel housed around 260 people in single rooms at the height of its operations, according to the city. As of November 22, 78 people were still living on the site.

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The city said it has been working to relocate residents of the site since Oct. 11. Nine have moved into permanent housing since the site stopped accepting new admissions in October and 33 others have housing plans in place, the city said. If housing is unavailable or does not meet a resident’s medical needs, they will be placed in alternative shelters, the city said.

« The intent is to find an appropriate referral for everyone by December 6, which could include a transition to permanent housing or a move to another shelter, » city spokeswoman Erin Whitton said. .

“The most important thing is to continue to provide safe indoor shelter where people have continued access to necessary wraparound supports and a housing worker.”

But some are strongly opposed to the planned closure of the Novotel site.

A video circulating online that was taken last week appears to show a resident being executed by police officers. Community worker Sid Jackson, who filmed the video and worked with the resident, said the woman was frustrated at not being able to meet with a housing worker and refused to leave.

The woman was taken to another safe haven hotel, Jackson said, noting that most safe haven hotels have had their operations extended until April 2023.

« They just decided to close this hotel and it’s just chaos, » Jackson said. « It was really heartbreaking because we were there at the Novotel and people were crying, they were just like… ‘Our friends are going to die, I could die.’

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The city said it could not comment on individual cases, but said no residents were forcibly moved off site due to relocation. He also said the police can be called if staff are concerned about a customer’s welfare or the safety of staff.

According to data from the city’s Central Intake Team, an average of 187 daily callers could not be matched with a place at a shelter in October.

Rafi Aaron, spokesman for the Interfaith Coalition to End Homelessness, said those numbers could be even higher because some homeless people are no longer trying to find accommodation.

« To start closing anything at this point, when you’re turning people away, is just a recipe for disaster, » said Aaron, who said he’s never seen so many people « in the street sleep in the street » during his 15 years of volunteering in the sector.

« We’ll set records for hypothermia, amputation of limbs…if something doesn’t change. »

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Gord Tanner, director of Toronto’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, said the shelter system is seeing about 8,200 people per night – 1,600 more people per night than at the same time last year – and is at full capacity most nights.

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The City of Toronto said it would create more than 1,000 new winter housing spaces, including 400 new affordable homes and 230 additional spaces in the existing shelter system.

It also plans to create 500 additional accommodation beds by bringing the beds closer together – from two meters to 1.25 meters – in a move that goes against a recommendation from infection prevention and control specialists with whom the city worked.

Lorraine Lam, community worker and advocate for the Shelter and Housing Justice Network, said the move was problematic given that respiratory illnesses were still rampant.

She said the closure of the Novotel shelter will mean more people on the streets, in encampments and on public transport to stay warm if they don’t feel they have safe housing options.

« It’s far from a plan, especially since we’re in the middle of winter right now, » she said. « It’s really inhuman. »


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