Project for home­less in Toronto brings hope for change

Tem­po­rary shel­ter at apart­ment build­ings leased by the city

Times Colonist - - Canada / World - JAKE KIVANC

TORONTO — COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on some of Toronto’s most vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties, but for two res­i­dents of a new hous­ing project in the city’s mid­town area, the pan­demic has been an un­ex­pected bless­ing.

Just a few months ago, Ja­son Greig and Rob Dods were each sleeping in tents. Now, the two men are among 149 pre­vi­ously home­less res­i­dents liv­ing in a pair of apart­ment build­ings leased by the city at the height of the pan­demic.

The deal was struck be­tween Toronto’s Shel­ter, Sup­port and Hous­ing Ad­min­is­tra­tion and the build­ings’ de­vel­oper, the Times Group Cor­po­ra­tion, not long after a num­ber of out­breaks in the shel­ter sys­tem. Res­i­dents moved in at the end of April.

But the agree­ment was never sup­posed to be per­ma­nent, and at the end of this month, all 149 res­i­dents will have to move out as the build­ings are pre­pared for demolition. Both Greig and Dods said they were grate­ful for the pro­gram — and would like to see the city pur­sue sim­i­lar op­tions in the fu­ture.

“COVID made my life bet­ter. It re­ally did,” Greig said in an in­ter­view out­side Sanc­tu­ary, a down­town Christian out­reach centre.

“What was I do­ing be­fore COVID? I was sleeping in a tent, go­ing from this neigh­bour­hood to that place. Never quite feel­ing safe enough to leave my tent or do anything, be­cause if I leave anything any­where, it’s stolen.”

Be­fore the pan­demic, Greig said, there were count­less hoops to jump through in order to secure hous­ing — but in the wake of the pan­demic, the red tape seemed to dis­ap­pear.

“Be­cause of COVID, I’ve never seen them change a law in this coun­try that fast,” he said.

Dods, who has been home­less for the last four years and strug­gles with al­co­holism, said he was be­com­ing dis­il­lu­sioned by the daily strug­gles of liv­ing on the street. “I was liv­ing in a tent right over there,” Dods said, ges­tur­ing to­ward the court­yard be­side Sanc­tu­ary.

“It was com­fort­able, shall we say, but it was also not com­fort­able. I ain’t camp­ing, you know? I’m not up north fish­ing.”

Dods said he be­lieves the city is gen­uinely try­ing its best to do right by the build­ings’ res­i­dents.

In a phone call with The Cana­dian Press, the di­rec­tor of Toronto’s Shel­ter, Sup­port and Hous­ing Ad­min­is­tra­tion, Gord Tan­ner, said the city is work­ing to make sure all res­i­dents have the chance to get per­ma­nent hous­ing. He said another set of tem­po­rary hous­ing will be ar­ranged for res­i­dents of the mid­town apart­ments who aren’t able to secure a place of their own be­fore September.

“For as many peo­ple as we can, we are try­ing to move them into per­ma­nent hous­ing, but for those that can’t, we will keep them ac­com­mo­dated through other means,” Tan­ner said.

“Given that this is another change for peo­ple, many of whom have been liv­ing out­side, we want to make sure they have the right in­for­ma­tion and feel re­as­sured.”

Dods said the new hous­ing pro­gram has had a hugely pos­i­tive ef­fect on his men­tal health, cit­ing the pro­found dif­fer­ence made by things such as be­ing able to have a hot shower, cook his own meals and lock his door at night.

While he’s con­fi­dent he’ll be able to find a place be­fore September, Dods said the main dif­fi­culty for home­less peo­ple finding hous­ing of­ten has more to do with prej­u­dice from land­lords than it does be­ing able to pay rent.

Still, he’s hope­ful the city will ap­proach the is­sue of home­less­ness with more com­pas­sion in a post-COVID world: in his eyes, both politi­cians and res­i­dents alike are start­ing to wake up to the bru­tal re­al­ity for those liv­ing on the street.

“It’s a big­ger prob­lem than a lot of peo­ple re­al­ize. It’s not just Joe Blow stand­ing in front of Tim Hor­tons ask­ing if you got any change. It’s way big­ger.”

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