• Lily Cheng

Vulnerable Seniors Deserve to Be Heard

Updated: Aug 20

This is Vincent. He is 85 years old and one of 246 low-income seniors living at Willowdale Manor located at 175 Cummer Ave. After the modular housing project to provide housing for homeless people was first introduced, Vincent wrote multiple letters to Mayor John Tory and Councillor John Filion. Even though Vincent and his neighbors offered to engage in a constructive dialogue with city officials, the residents of 175 Cummer never had a meeting with the city to discuss their concerns. Vincent is understandably frustrated that city officials have ignored him and the voices of the seniors who live at Willowdale Manor.

Vincent deserves better. The city claims to care about vulnerable people, but when political decisions were made that affect them the most, the city ignored Vincent and his neighbours. A city serious about consulting people like Vincent needs to adopt the principles of a connected community and:

  • Engage in multilingual outreach since a large percentage of these seniors do not speak English.

  • Take advantage of good spring or summer weather to schedule an in-person meeting outside so that seniors without devices can participate safely.

Effective leadership in these meetings would have heard that over 90% of residents at Willowdale Manor signed a petition objecting to the location for this modular housing proposal because of safety concerns in a building without a doorman, and that the housing units will take away already-scarce parking spots for when their families come to visit 175 Cummer but find the parking lot full every weekend - and many weekdays too.

Our city leadership says they have consulted Willowdale before making this proposal, but they clearly skipped talking to those most affected by the project. Having visited the residents, I was deeply grateful to see that these seniors have a peaceful place to live, and I am committed to making sure their voices are heard at City Hall.

Why am I against this project?

I’ve listened to Vincent and his neighbours. I cannot fathom why politicians would choose a site shared by a low income old age home with minimal staffing and security was chosen without exploring other possible locations.

Housing for homeless people is needed. However, such initiatives cannot be parachuted into a community without genuinely engaging those who will be most impacted.

There is a saying, “Hurt people hurt people.” I have spent the past few years working in a community where I have seen first hand how common it is for conflict to emerge when vulnerable residents, many of whom have suffered abuse and trauma in their lives, are not well supported. I’ve struggled to help families find a pathway to peace in their own homes due to the complex community surrounding them.

For a project like this to succeed, it is important to build trust, identify issues, and develop solutions to address those concerns. Councilor Filion and other city officials have not taken the time to do the most basic consultations with the residents at Willowdale Manor. Rather than building trust and seeking solutions, our leaders vilify those who raise legitimate concerns and have not even listened to the very people who live at the site location. To address some of the seniors' concerns, the city could have:

  • Released crime statistics and EMS call data from areas near existing modular housing sites (11 Macey Ave and 150 Harrison Street). City officials did not.

  • Willowdale Manor residents could have been connected to residents living near existing modular housing sites to hear how they are fairing and what mistakes ought to be avoided. City officials did not.

As I write, the Bayview Cummer Neighbourhood Association (BCNA) will be appealing the zoning change passed by the City of Toronto for 175 Cummer Avenue. This process could take 1-2 years. During this time, the modular units sit empty and unused in the Finch TTC parking lot. The homeless problem is real, and needs to be addressed today - not in 2024. I urge the city to use common sense by using the empty modular housing units at another site rather than doing nothing while waiting for this appeal process to conclude.

Local residents - especially those who are vulnerable themselves - must be able to voice their concerns. No one is listening to seniors at 175 Cummer Ave. (Willowdale Manor) right now. If elected, I will continue to listen to people like Vincent and commit to the following actions:

  • Cancel modular supportive housing at 175 Cummer Ave. UNLESS genuine and accessible consultation happens with the low income seniors at Willowdale Manor and they feel comfortable moving forward. CLARIFICATION: I will honour the path chosen by the seniors. Further, we can discuss making the land in front of their home an official city park.

  • Work with the city and community to look for alternative sites for much needed modular housing and ensure implementation includes genuine consultation processes.

  • Work with local charities, community associations and faith communities to ensure vulnerable populations in Willowdale including those living in poverty, homeless neighbours, refugees and vulnerable seniors are connected and supported by our neighbourhood.

  • Advocate for emergency meeting on homelessness, mental health and addiction between big city mayors and provincial government as requested in June 2022 (https://www.ontariobigcitymayors.ca/news/details.php?id=826)

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