(Image from HousingTO Action Plan)
In Support of the HousingTO Implementation Plan
YWCA Toronto submission to the City of Toronto's Housing & Planning Committee
September 22, 2020
My name is Jasmine Ramze Rezaee, and I am the Director of Advocacy and Communications at YWCA Toronto. I will be speaking to agenda items PH 16.5 and 16.8 in my deputation so I am combining my remarks.
YWCA Toronto is a multi-service non-profit organization that helps women escape and recover from violence, move out of poverty, and access safe and affordable housing. We also work with young girls to build their leadership and critical thinking skills. Every year, we serve over 13,000 women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals from Etobicoke to Scarborough in over 32 programs. We have a long and proud history of partnership with the City of Toronto particularly in providing housing and shelter for women and their families.
During the pandemic, our doors have remained open, and our frontline staff has assumed additional responsibilities to ensure the safety of our residents and workspaces. Our essential services have included our two Violence Against Women shelters and our two homeless shelters as well as our 547 permanent housing units.
With the assistance of a generous family foundation, we moved some of our homeless shelter residents to a hotel in order to create safe physical distancing. Happily, the City moved our other homeless shelter to a hotel from a dormitory style program, which was clearly unsafe in the current circumstances.
We are very pleased to have been awarded the 389 Church Street contract which will provide 120 supportive homes for women. This building is slated to open in January and couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment.
We are deputing in support of the HousingTO Implementation Plan and the Intergovernmental Partnership Plan, including the recommendations contained in the Interim Shelter Recovery Strategy report by SSHA and UWGT and the Housing People and Action Plan.
As an External Advisory Committee member, we are a strong supporter of the City’s HousingTO 2020-2030 action plan. The City’s commitment to increase our affordable and deeply affordable housing stock, including the 10,000 new affordable rental and supportive homes for women and girls by 2030, is a meaningful step in the right direction.
The implementation of the HousingTO plan and the Toronto Housing Charter will require ongoing monitoring, tracking and reporting to ensure transparency and accountability. Annual updates should be provided to Council on progress to ensure the City is on track to delivering the housing solutions needed by so many communities in our city. Therefore, it is critically important that a Housing Commissioner is immediately set up to oversee the implementation process and that this office is properly resourced as well as independent, meaning reporting directly to City Council. Ultimately, how this plan is rolled out will be very relevant to the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing in Toronto – so it is important that we get this right.
We also want to emphasize the importance of developing a specific action plan to meet the HousingTO target for women in consultation with our sector (the VAW sector). Collecting greater data and research to better understand the experience of women’s homelessness is necessary to generate women-centred housing solutions – and we can be a partner in conducting some of this research. We believe data collection should be disaggregated and intersectional so that the needs of diverse women and particularly Black and racialized women are better understood and met.
As you know, the pandemic has put into sharp focus that we must make substantial changes to the way our shelter system currently works. We need a safer system that prioritizes permanent, affordable, and supportive housing and creates viable housing solutions for women and their families. As the interim shelter report highlights, “Physical distancing requirements have reaffirmed how dormitory-style shelters are not only counterproductive to supporting clients’ health, wellbeing, and exits from homelessness, but in the pandemic have proven untenable.”
We support the call to repurpose shelter space as permanent or transitional supportive housing and implement housing and shelter solutions that are pandemic-appropriate and ultimately help realize housing as a human right.
We have to transform a system that relies too heavily on emergency shelters, which can be so cost prohibitive and frankly unsafe, towards a system that prioritizes the creation of affordable, supportive and permanent housing units. We believe the recommendations contained in the shelter report offer some creative and thoughtful solutions that deserve your immediate attention and action.
Moreover, we hope the City continues cooperating with other levels of government and advocates for an increase in social assistance rates to match the level of income support available through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which is also pointed out in the interim shelter report.
In short, we look forward to continuing our partnership with the City in creating sustainable housing solutions for women and gender-diverse people in Toronto, and reducing homelessness and housing scarcity in our city. Thank you.
Watch the meeting, including the deputation, here.