The first of two online public meetings to share information and answer questions about the proposed refugee welcome center at 3 Park Home Avenue happens this Monday July 18.
The City of Toronto is looking to enter into an agreement to use the Novotel Hotel to meet the current need for temporary accommodations for refugees and refugee claimants. If the terms of the lease are approved by Toronto Council at its meeting next week, the center would open on Sept. 1, with residents gradually arriving through September and October. This Monday’s meeting will run from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. The second community engagement meeting will take place July 27, also from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. To take part in either meeting, and for more detailed information on the proposal, visit www.toronto.ca/3ParkHome.
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This proposal caught me by surprise when I first learned about it less than three weeks ago, a few hours before the staff report recommending it was released. I am frustrated that City staff made my job more difficult by not giving me the opportunity to provide early information. People have legitimate questions – for example, do local schools have enough space for the children who'll be arriving? – that I am still in the process of getting clear answers to. Unfortunately, some people have used the lack of information from the city to manufacture their own on social media. It is not true, for example, that there is already "a contractual commitment" to move forward with this. That can't happen until Council approves, modifies, or refuses the terms of the lease which will come before it at the last regular meeting of the term next week. I have called the community meeting, on somewhat short notice, to take place before that. To be clear, however, what's before Council is the terms of a lease. Refugee policy is the responsibility of the federal government, which is expected to reimburse the city for housing costs. Providing housing for those who don't have any is the City's obligation. Technically, even the location doesn't require Council approval because Council, in effect, delegated that authority to staff earlier in the term – something I opposed, but only because I like to maintain political control over all issues affecting the community. I am, however, spending many hours a week on the goal of improving the situation for the families who will be living there and for the community at large. I have, for example, initiated changes to the lease to provide more food options for the residents, including an ability to have some meals provided by food businesses in the area. As a Councillor and a Canadian proud of our tradition of extending a hand to people from around the world who come here seeking a better life – especially those fleeing war, violence, and other dangers – I am more than willing to devote my remaining time as Councillor to make this program an innovative and successful model for others. In the weeks ahead, I'll be letting you know how you can help with that. - John