Shelter closure leaves residents with no options for safe housing

Toronto is closing pandemic-era hotel shelters without proper relocation processes, leaving residents stranded, in dangerous situations, while experiencing abuse at the hands of administrators.
A graffiti tag on a signboard in front of Novotel Toronto reads, "Housing is my Right"

The city of Toronto is waging a war on the poor, carrying out direct violence and abuse against working-class and unhoused communities through policies and practices that continue to uphold colonial, carceral and racist structures. The CPT Turtle Island Solidarity Network (TISN), in coalition with several other organizers in Toronto, is mobilizing to hold the city accountable.   

TISN was created in 2018 as a network of CPT reservists across Turtle Island mobilizing for  Indigenous solidarity in a variety of different communities. TISN has sent accompaniment teams to Wet’suwet’en territory and Line 3 resistance camps and has been supporting Chích’il Bił Dagoteel (Oak Flat) and 1492 Land Back Lane. Most recently, Rachelle Friesen, CPT TISN’s Coordinator, has been involved in anti-poverty organizing where she is based in Toronto.

At the core of Indigenous solidarity work is decolonization. This is often understood as ‘land back’ and sovereignty from the residual colonial policies that exist in the economic, legal, and cultural aspects of governments today. But to fully achieve decolonization we must also dismantle capitalism, as the current class system is a driving force of oppression of many intersectional identities. As Métis academic and activist Howard Adams argues in Prison of Grass, Indigenous solidarity and anti-capitalist organizing must go hand in hand. CPT has found it essential to stand with folks who are unhoused and working-class people as a way to deconstruct the colonial system.

Therefore, CPT has been working alongside a coalition of organizers in Toronto resisting colonial policies and standing in solidarity with Indigenous people and folks who are unhoused.  This work has included supporting encampments and organizing alongside residents who are living at shelter hotels.  

To address housing needs during the pandemic, the city of Toronto opened up hotels as a way to provide unhoused folks with a safer option for shelter. Several hotels were repurposed for this use, but now—even as the pandemic is ongoing and infection numbers are rising—the city has chosen to shut down the hotel shelters. One of these shelters is the Novotel hotel, located at 45 Esplanade, which has been housing hundreds of people and is set to close by December 6th, 2022.

Gord Tanner, the general manager of Toronto’s Shelter Support and Housing Administration has announced that all residents will receive an individualized relocation plan that considers the resident’s needs and community. Yet no such plans exist. While some residents have been given housing since the announcement of the closure, many residents are being forced out without any consent on their relocation conditions.

Homes First, a charity organization running the Novotel shelter, has not been providing any information about residents’ individualized relocation plans. Friesen has been advocating alongside residents experiencing this mistreatment. “Some of these relocations are happening at midnight; residents have received knocks on their door after midnight, and are told they have 30 minutes to pack up their stuff because they’re being relocated,” she commented. “They are not given the option to deny or refuse their relocation, because if residents choose the street instead of the relocation plan, they have nowhere to put their belongings as storage lockers close at 6 pm.”

The Novotel residents have a list of demands that can be found online as ‘Voices of the Novotel.’ The hotel must remain open until residents can secure permanent housing. Toronto is a city with over 10,000 folks who are unhoused, while at the same time over 60,000 condo units sit empty. There is no reason for anyone to be living on the street.

Even prior to the announcement of the closure, residents have told CPT about the cycle of mass abuse happening under Homes First administration including food poisoning, sexual harassment from staff and other residents, and eviction of residents without any legitimate reasoning and no proper appeal process.

“It is completely unacceptable,” says Friesen. “What we are seeing is a systematic criminalization of folks who are unhoused through the shelter system as an extension of the prison system. Folks staying at a shelter are forced to comply with unnecessary rules, and if they do not submit, they are forced onto the street as punishment.” To move towards abolition, housing is imperative. 

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