Re: Community Safety at Roehampton Shelter
Dear Ms. Bédard,
We appreciate the critical need to provide housing for Torontonians in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. You and your team have done an admirable job to quickly move more than 3,500 people to create required physical distancing in the shelter system, including securing permanent housing for 1,500 vulnerable residents under difficult circumstances.
We are writing with respect to the Temporary shelter program that Shelter Services established at the Roehampton Hotel in Midtown. In particular, we are urgently requesting that additional, effective and immediate measures be taken to help ensure the safety of local residents and shelter clients.
As you are aware, a shelter client was stabbed over the weekend. This was just the latest incident that has impacted residents at the Roehampton shelter, the Broadway site that is in the process of closing this month and in the wider neighbourhood. Break-ins, shoplifting, discarded needles, and other threats to safety are unacceptable in any area of Toronto and must be fully addressed.
We have listened to community concerns and reached out to local school councils, schools administrators and trustees, BIAs, daycares, condo boards and tenant associations, to develop a plan for additional community safety measures and supports that we have specifically asked be implemented on behalf of the local residents and we are grateful that the entire public service including the Toronto Police Service have responded by implementing:
• Routine perimeter walks of the property by security guards
• Community Safety Teams picking up hazards such as needles and monitoring 24/7 for inappropriate activities
• City of Toronto Corporate Security mobile patrols
• Toronto Police Services’ Community Response Unit visiting the site regularly
• Inner City Health Associates is providing physician, nursing and psychiatric supports
• Toronto Public Health – The Works, which provides harm reduction services, will be on site twice per week
• Hiring additional housing workers to be assigned full-time to the site. These workers will provide individualized supports and housing search assistance while referring clients to mental health professionals, employment services, skills training, harm reduction and addictions counselling, and other supports as needed.
While the above measures are clearly important steps in the right direction, recent events have demonstrated that more must be done.
The following requests come from numerous conversations we’ve had with local residents, best practices from other cities, and our observations from visits to the shelter and the surrounding area.
We are requesting the following actions be implemented:
1. Expedited School Safety Plan
The safety of our children is the utmost importance and must be the City’s top priority. With local schools scheduled to begin on September 15, it is imperative that a school safety plan be developed in consultation with local parents, trustees, and schools in advance of the opening date so the wider community has enough time to provide input and feedback. The plan must include sweeps of local school grounds for items, including needles, every morning well before students are on site.
Our objective, taking a comprehensive approach, should be that there will eventually be no need for a safety plan in the first place.
2. Expanded Safety Team Patrols
Our offices informed on-site shelter staff weeks ago that the routes that community safety teams are taking are insufficient to address inappropriate behaviour and hazardous materials, including discarded needles. Please expand the routes of the teams to include properties of local residential buildings, including stairwells, alleyways, and parking structures. We are ready to engage private property owners if there are barriers to access on these sites.
Moreover, in addition to the local schools that are already being addressed, we further request that the teams also sweep area parks including Sherwood, Eglinton, and June Rowlands.
3. Addiction Treatment and Supports
We are concerned about access to treatment and recovery services for the people staying at the Roehampton site who are struggling with substance abuse issues.
As you are aware, there has been a rapid increase of overdoses and overdose deaths across the city this summer. In addition to harm reduction (within the building) and safe disposal measures, please provide regular counselling and establish peer groups to support people struggling with addiction and assisting those already in recovery.
4. Recreational Space and Programming
Please utilize space in the hotel to provide recreational activities and programs to support the health and well-being of the people staying at the Roehampton program. Community members have offered to facilitate fitness, music, and other classes. These programs should be pursued not only for the obvious benefit to the residents but to also help integrate them into the neighbourhood.
Thank you for your attention to our letter. We look forward to working with you to move forward with implementing these requests. We look forward to regular updates on this specific list beyond the daily briefings we have been having so that we can report back to area residents on a frequent basis and be accountable for improvements which must come about.
Thank you and your team for the continued efforts they are making to both care for our vulnerable fellow residents and maintain safe, stable neighbourhoods across our city. We recognize that this is a challenge but we know that by working together we can meet it.
Mayor John Tory and Councillor Josh Matlow