Dear Councillor Filion - Please slow down or stop this project.
Dear Councillor Filion,
I was surprised to discover that despite your description in your email newsletter of a proposal for refugee housing in Willowdale, a contractual commitment has already been made to move forward. I’m astounded that a decision of this magnitude was made without any community engagement.
When I speak with neighbours, I hear many concerns that we have not had a chance to raise our voices about this initiative. We all want to help refugees fleeing war and persecution, but these are basic questions about how this refugee shelter will operate in a way that will be beneficial to those we serve and our community. For example:
A detailed plan on funds that will be allocated to increase school and parks and recreation capacity to meet the needs of refugee shelter guests.
What funding allocation is designated to services such as ESL, settlement workers and counsellors?
How long will refugees be expected to stay in this facility given the high cost of housing and other living expenses here.
I am hearing firsthand the struggles of Ukrainian families arriving in Canada and am surprised they will not be included in this initiative. I know they do not have refugee status, but could we not make room for them too to support them as they transition to life in Canada. There are new posts every day from Ukranians in Canada on Facebook desperately seeking temporary housing.
Toronto is such an expensive city. Why are we not establishing hubs for refugees in smaller communities where there is less competition for resources, especially housing? Although Toronto offers greater diversity and possibly more job opportunities, it is really hard to survive here.
What type of support will be offered from the lead agency for the refugee shelter? What are the gaps that will likely emerge? What can we learn from the hotels that housed Syrian refugees a few years ago?
How will the community be invited to support the new arrivals? Who will be managing this engagement and will there be funding allocated to this mobilization? Organizing enough volunteers to support 6-700 people requires infrastructure that cannot simply depend on the good will of the neighbourhood.
The Peoples Church rents a house where refugee claimants can land and be supported in their transition to Canadian life. Is there a possibility of more smaller scale projects of similar design in partnership with faith communities that provide more of a village of support than can be offered on such a large scale. Adam House, Christie Refugee Centre and Matthew House are also organizations that have been doing this for a long time whose models we can learn from.
In particular, I am concerned at the large number of people being served. Supporting 6-700 people in a neighbourhood where infrastructure and resources are already maxed out will have an unknown impact on our neighbourhood. I know the city sees this consolidation as streamlining and cost saving, but smaller scale projects spread across several communities would result in more meaningful community engagement and better care and support for new arrivals.
The contract is for 5 years. What will happen if the number of refugees is less than the capacity of the new shelter? Many are concerned that we may witness a repeat of what happened when the Willowdale Welcome Centre for refugees at 5800 Yonge St was later converted to a homeless shelter without any community engagement or consultation, significantly impacting our neighbourhood. We have not received any assurances that the same will not happen, nor has there been any transparency regarding the impact the current homeless shelter has had on our community.
Many of us, especially women, children and seniors have felt less safe in our neighbourhood because of this change with little support provided by the city to address our concerns. I will be writing a separate letter to discuss this matter.
Additionally, I am disappointed to see the Willowdale Church Coalition and NeighbourLink North York, have not been included in preliminary meetings to discuss how faith communities (outside of the Willowdale Interdenominational Faith Coalition) and volunteers in the neighbourhood could be engaged to support these new arrivals. I would like to assure you that I would not be the representative for either of these entities at these meetings due to my current status as a political candidate.
I would like to suggest that you contact Sandra Ryan from The Peoples Church who has years of experience serving displaced peoples including helping to establish The International Association For Refugees Canada. I am confident she can provide significant insight into this matter.
In addition to answering the above mentioned questions, I am asking you to please slow down or stop the implementation of this project to give full consideration to use this funding towards multiple smaller scale sites that would provide greater community engagement and support incoming refugees across Toronto. Furthermore, greater transparency and community discussions need to happen to mend the trust that has been broken. Until our concerns regarding the current situation on Yonge Street and the increased safety risks to local residents are addressed, it would be detrimental to the entire community to move forward with this project with this level of speed and lack of community engagement.
Many thanks for your consideration,
Lily Cheng Concerned Willowdaler & Toronto City Councillor Candidate Ward 18, Willowdale www.lilycheng.ca email@example.com “Alone we can do so little. Together, we can do so much.”- Helen Keller