Toronto’s COVID-19 housing project ends, but residents hope for a change

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TORONTO – COVID-19 has wreaked havoc in some of Toronto’s most vulnerable communities, but for two residents of a new housing project in the city’s downtown core, the pandemic has been an unexpected blessing. Just a few months ago, Jason Greig and Rob Dods were each sleeping in tents. Today, the two men are among 149 previously homeless residents living in two apartment buildings rented by the city at the height of the pandemic.

The deal was struck between the Shelter, Support and Housing Administration of Toronto and the building developer, The Times Group Corporation, shortly after a number of outbreaks in the shelter system led to a wave of outdoor camps in the city center.

Residents moved in at the end of April and have since enjoyed the amenities they were deprived of while on the street: a hot shower, their own kitchen, air conditioning and privacy.

But the deal was never meant to be permanent, and by the end of this month the 149 residents will have to relocate as the buildings are ready for demolition.

Greig and Dods said they were grateful for the program – and would like to see the city pursue similar options in the future.

“COVID has improved my life. It really is, ”said Greig in a recent interview outside Sanctuary, a downtown Christian outreach center.

“What was I doing before COVID? I slept in a tent, going from this neighborhood to this place. I never felt safe enough to leave my tent or do anything, because if I leave something anywhere, it’s stolen. ”

Before the pandemic, Greig said, there were countless hurdles to overcome to get housing – but in the aftermath of the pandemic, the bureaucracy seemed to disappear.

“Because of COVID, I have never seen them change a law in this country so quickly,” he said.

Dods, who has been homeless for four years and struggles with alcoholism, said he was becoming disappointed with the daily struggles of life on the streets.

“I was living in a tent right over there,” Dods said, gesturing to the courtyard next to the shrine.

“It was comfortable, shall we say, but it was not comfortable either. I don’t camp, you know? I don’t fish in the north. ”

Dods said he believes the city is really trying to do its best to do well for the inhabitants of the buildings.

In a phone call with The Canadian Press, Toronto Shelter, Support and Housing Administration director Gord Tanner said the city is working to ensure that all residents have the chance to secure a permanent housing. He said another set of temporary housing would be organized for all residents of downtown apartments who are unable to find their own accommodation until September.

“For as many people as possible, we try to move them into permanent housing, but for those who cannot, we will keep them housed in other ways,” Tanner said.

“Since this is another change for people, many of whom have lived outdoors, we want to make sure they have the right information and feel reassured.

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

Although he is confident he can find housing before September, Dods said the main difficulty for homeless people to find housing is often more about landlord prejudices than being able to pay rent.

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

“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 have any change. It is much more important. ”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on August 4, 2020.

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