• Lily Cheng

The biggest issue in Willowdale

Many journalists with their own personal agendas would have you believe that Modular Supportive Housing is the main issue in Willowdale. It is not. Go to any section of Willowdale and most people either do not have a strong opinion about it, or don’t even know what is happening. But, what I do hear in every part of Willowdale is this, “No one is listening to us.”

Ironically, Toronto Star journalist David Rider was beside me when an Italian grandmother complained about this very thing when I approached her. “They never listen to us!” she said passionately and she continued with a full rant about it. Perhaps this is not click bait-able as an issue, but it goes to the heart of democracy. What happens when people feel their leaders are no longer listening? Here are some examples where there have been gaps in listening that I want to address:

5800 Yonge Street - Homeless Shelter

There should have been a community meeting when the refugee shelter pivoted to homeless shelter as well as the formation of a Community Liaison Committee. Instead, the community began to feel and see the impact and had to figure out how to navigate these changes on our own. It started to show up in my North York Moms group that women had been chased or harassed in ways that made them feel unsafe, especially walking with their children. These days I regularly hear about needles thrown carelessly throughout our community, women who no longer walk the paths they used to take, moms who no longer let their children ride their bikes because of the rise in our community of people who are clearly in distress. When I brought up these issues at a community meeting I was accused by our city councillor of “manufacturing lies.” We cannot solve a problem we are not allowed to talk about. We can talk about these things without dehumanizing those who are homeless. We need to find solutions for everyone.

ReImagine Yonge

An extensive consultation process was held that was not inclusive or accessible to the entire community. We have a large and diverse neighbourhood. When a decision as big as reducing lanes on Yonge street is being made, the communication has to include the small ethnic business owners, many of whom do not feel their concerns have been heard. This issue is probably the most divisive issue in our neighbourhood because in some ways it pits suburban car reliant Willowdalers against urban Willowdalers who want a safe, walkable neighbourhood. We cannot simply move forward and turn a deaf ear to those who are worried. This is why my plan includes a pilot that will allow us to speak to facts instead of fears. The journey is just as important as the destination in any consultative process. We cannot allow this issue to split our community.

Enjoying a meal with seniors from 175 Cummer Ave. Photo taken by Nathan Gomes.

175 Cummer Ave.

The plan to place housing for those experiencing homelessness has been pushed through without genuine consultation with the seniors who live there. Currently there are 2 buildings at the site, one long-term care facility, the other is for low-income seniors. Both populations are vulnerable. On a sunny day, I see seniors from Cummer Lodge sitting outside in their wheelchairs and others from Willowdale Manor sitting on benches in front of the building, looking at the beautiful trees. The seniors at Willowdale Manor have objections to this project that have not been heard. Instead, they have been vilified for not caring about the homeless. But who is caring about them? In a city in BC that is further ahead of us in implementing supportive housing, they have guidelines for locations for supportive housing that include avoiding seniors and schools. It seems like a logical guideline considering the complexity of needs of those experiencing homelessness. This is not about blaming homeless people. They need to be housed and supported in the right location - that is surely not on the front lawn of 600 vulnerable seniors.

These are three bigger examples, but the smaller examples are many. Residents who have told me their phone calls have not been returned or their problems remain unsolved. So many of our constituents do not speak English as a primary language and yet so little of our communications is done in other languages reflects a lack of commitment to building an inclusive community where all residents have the opportunity to participate. The fact that community benefits have not been distributed in a transparent or equitable way across Willowdale.

For progress to happen, we need everyone’s voice at the table. We cannot continue to build a community where leaders are selective about who gets to participate. I am the candidate who will make every effort to ensure that your voice is heard.

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