The City of Toronto has announced plans to open 5800 Yonge Street as a temporary housing centre for refugees.
Although the City started preparing this site for use as refugee housing, there were no firm plans to open it as such until the middle of October 2019. As soon as I was aware of these plans, I worked with city staff to schedule a community information session, a notice to be delivered by mail to locals living near the residence, and an email notice from my office. This meeting, scheduled for November 21 at 7 PM at Churchill Public School (188 Churchill Ave), is designed to inform people and to attempt to deal with any concerns; it is not a meeting to ask if residents agree with a shelter at this location because it is already permitted and city staff have decided that it is the best location.
Additionally, let me start with some factual information on this issue:
1) The Government of Canada, as a member of the global community, has made commitments to accept refugees fleeing persecution and life-threatening conditions in other parts of the world. I believe that most Canadians are proud of this tradition.
2) As Canada’s largest city, Toronto receives a large number of refugee claimants. In recent years, due to situations elsewhere in the world, these numbers have increased. The City’s role is to provide very basic temporary shelter and to help create conditions which will help successful claimants integrate into a productive life in our country. Typically, refugees are eager to find work and housing and the average stay in a shelter is three months or less.
3) Earlier this year, shelters were given as-of-right zoning everywhere in the city. In opposing this move to allow shelters on every street, I argued that main streets such as Yonge were the most appropriate location. Accordingly, I believe that 5800 Yonge is as good a location as you can get for this type of temporary housing. Last year, the new owner of 5800 Yonge, himself a newcomer to Canada, offered the property to the city for this temporary purpose while applying for approval to redevelop the property.
Although I would not have had the ability to stop the shelter, I do not wish to hide behind that fact. As members of a compassionate and affluent society, I believe we have an obligation to fairly and humanely treat asylum and refugee claimants who arrive in our city. I believe that we must treat asylum and refugee claimants with compassion while their status is being considered and to assist those who are successful in becoming productive residents of their new home.