n Friday at 1:30 p.m., residents of the Bond Place Hotel, a temporary shelter-hotel the City of Toronto has leased through the pandemic, organized a clothing and food donation drive to give essentials out to their fellow residents. The hotel provides temporary shelter for a large number of unhoused people in the city.
This week marks the third mutual aid effort staged outside at a parking lot beside the hotel. Residents turned up in small groups or alone to pick up available goods, stop for a coffee, and a chat.
Several of the organizers are with Encampment Support Network [ESN] Parkdale (soon to be renamed). Jennifer Jewell, a resident of the hotel who is one of the central organizers on the small team of people leading the effort, says that they will continue to host these clothing and food distribution efforts every Friday afternoon in the near future.
As of now, the most urgently needed items are large and extra large winter jackets, boots, and gloves.
“We're handing out winter clothing to people,” says Jewell. “We have coffee, sometimes we have Tim's cards, and we’re also talking to people about their rights. We have a flyer printed out about some of the rules that aren't as well known by the residents, that the staff [of the Bond Place Hotel] are not adhering to.”
Jewell says that these efforts are the first steps in a plan to organize residents into a group that can exert pressure on the city and the hotel’s administration. The City of Toronto lists a set of rules all shelters must adhere to, called the Toronto Shelter Standards document, which Jewell and her cohort have printed off to give out to shelter residents every Friday. According to Jewell, these rules are not being followed.
“It's a really terrible atmosphere. A lot of people are dying. And almost nothing that's mandated in the Toronto Shelter Standards is actually being done,” Jewell said.
Alykhan Pabani, a volunteer with ESN Parkdale, has been helping Jewell organize the Friday mutual events. “There's a really acute need right now. It's one of the coldest winters we've had quite a while,” Pabani said. “And [conditions] just keep getting worse and worse. Especially in the shelter system. People are getting discharged, or getting service restrictions in the middle of the cold weather and stuff. And there's nowhere else to go, they're not being referred to other places because there's no room in the shelter system.
According to the Shelter and Housing Justice Network [SHJN], the shelter system in Toronto is in collapse. An SHJN press release from last week states that over 50 shelters in the GTA are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and are unable to accept new residents.
Jewell described the poor conditions at the Bond Place Hotel, including very low quality of food, heating issues, lack of communication among staff, and numerous on-site deaths.
“Last weekend my heating broke,” Jewell said. “And [the hotel’s] response was to just not have heat for the weekend. But it was really cold. And I had to do this whole social media thing to get it escalated to the point where they actually sort of did something about it. They treat other people a lot worse. And when people speak up about their rights, they get threatened with getting kicked out.”
Jewell explained that residents are often afraid of speaking up about the bad living conditions, unfair treatment, or problems in their units because they do not want to face retaliation alone. Distributing the flyers, having conversations, and developing trust between residents is a way to counteract this, Jewell explained. Pabani said they hope to slowly build a critical mass of residents who can exert pressure on the hotel administration and the City together.
Jewell has been living at the hotel since 2021. Prior to this she was living in one of Toronto’s homeless encampments in public parks. Most of these encampments were destroyed by Toronto Police Services and private security firm Star Security in the summer of 2021.
Despite now being sheltered at the Bond Place Hotel, she says the encampment living situation was safe, and the best living situation she has had in the last two years.
There is also concern that in April residents at the hotel will be expected to leave again. Jewell suspects that many of them will return to living in encampments in the absence of permanent stable housing.