On March 6, 2020, we, a collective of 23 Downtown East faith leaders, supported by an additional 83 faith leaders from across the City, wrote Mayor John Tory urging immediate action to minimize suffering and death among the most vulnerable citizens of Toronto.
Our letter revealed the City’s inadequate response in ensuring accessible basic health needs and safe housing accommodations for the poorest people, and to ensure the overall safety of all Torontonians during COVID-19 crisis.
To save lives and minimize the deadly impacts of COVID-19 on Toronto’s homeless, we asked for the City to honour its stated commitments, and without delay.
In particular, we called for:
- Immediate fast-track of people into safe housing options outside of the unsafe shelter system.
- An ongoing and explicit moratorium on evictions for those without alternative options available to them for the duration of the pandemic.
- Dignified and accessible health, hygiene and safety provisions for the most vulnerable. This includes the provision of adequate hygiene facilities, including washrooms, handwashing stations, showers, and laundry, at various locations throughout the downtown core.
- Low-barrier and mobile COVID-19 screening across downtown areas.
- Accessible, steady and adequate supply of PPE for vulnerable populations, as well as volunteers and staff at both city funded and non-city funded organizations.
- Support for shuttered organizations to re-engage service delivery of harm reduction, crisis counselling, primary case management, health and well-being services in safe and effective ways.
In our letter, we stated that our churches and volunteers had stepped up in this emergency. We emphasized that we cannot maintain this pace indefinitely and that the City must mobilize significant resources to improve the living conditions of homeless people during this pandemic.
On May 11, 2020, we received a response to our letter from Mary-Anne Bédard, General Manager for Shelter, Support and Housing Administration City of Toronto. Ms.Bédard’s letter did not directly address the critical issues and gaps in the City’s response to our letter highlighted. It basically gave lip service to the emergency situation which led us to write the Mayor, essentially saying the City was doing the best they could.
We also find it sad, and found it less than respectful, when 103 faith community leaders from across the City write to Mayor Tory calling for emergency action, and he does not respond to them directly.
Therefore, we are calling on Mayor Tory to meet without delay, the Downtown East faith leader collective to discuss our demands for the poor we serve.
We again call for immediate action on the 6 demands mentioned above.
We are also notably concerned about the vulnerability of Indigenous people at this time. As Sandra Campbell of Toronto Urban Native Ministry puts it,
“Presently the shelter system is unsafe, overpopulated, and systematically institutionalized, there is no realistic accessible place for Indigenous street folks and the vulnerable community to wash their hands, take showers, safely defecate, especially at times when everything is closed. Furthermore, some of the vulnerable community members have tried to reach outside the faith communities for extra help. However, they have experienced either being harassed, ticketed, or arrested with handcuffs.”
We request that such callous and cruel treatment of our Indigenous brothers and sisters cease immediately.
Church of the Holy Trinity
Sign the Petition
The City of Toronto has failed in its mandate to ensure accessible basic health needs and safe housing accommodations for the poorest people and to ensure the overall safety of all Torontonians. Urgent action is needed.