Content warning: this article contains information that may be painful for some readers. The TRCC offers a 24/7 crisis line for those who have experienced sexual assault with private and confidential crisis intervention: 416-597-8808
A resident of the Bond Place Shelter-Hotel and one of the sources of this article, Graeme Dring, passed away between the writing and publishing of this article.
Situated between Church and Yonge, the Bond Place Hotel has remained a temporary shelter since April 2020. What initially started as a hotel-shelter lease obtained by the city of Toronto with the purpose of housing up to 250 unhoused people, has instead turned into a hostile and unsafe environment, according to residents who live there.
On March 23, a Twitter account called ‘Voices from The Bond’ was created by Bond residents with the assistance of ESN Parkdale, an offshoot of the Encampment Support Network comprised of volunteers who give support to encampment and shelter-hotel residents. Since its creation, Voices from The Bond has documented and shared residents' experiences within the shelter hotel.
This information is compiled through resident-created questionnaires that cover “service restrictions, food quality, accessibility and more.” All responses are posted with the consent of the residents.
“I don’t think mainstream people know how bad living conditions are there, it’s as though we don't have human rights,’ says Bond resident Jenifer Jewell.
Jewell has resided at the hotel since 2020. She says the issues are derived from a lack of attention to residents’ needs and the staff's volatile treatment of some residents which goes against Toronto Shelter Standards. The TSS sets a guideline for procedures and rules for city-run shelters to abide by.
Both Jewell and the Voices from The Bond Twitter account mention incidents where elevators were inaccessible and staff didn’t serve dinner to residents with disabilities. Residents claim they’ve been served rotten food and undercooked chicken. They’ve also experienced a lack of access to phone services to contact doctors or caseworkers, a lack of heating, and unwanted wellness checks, where Bond security staff has entered residents’ rooms without permission.
Favouritism and judgment from staff is another major issue at the hotel, according to residents. Both Jewell and Graeme Dring, another Bond resident, said staff have issues with their de-escalation techniques.
“There have been situations where staff members have begun laughing at someone in crisis,” says Jewell. “The training is inadequate…it happens rarely, but I’ve been told by staff to use the stairs while I’m in my [wheelchair.]” In another instance, a resident requested non-male staff for their bed checks and was denied.
“It feels haunted here a lot of the time,” says Dring. “Staff come in and do these checks, they knock and just start walking in while you’re getting out of bed, it feels a bit premeditated…like they’re peeping in on you.”
Dixon Hall, the housing services organization that runs the shelter program at the Bond Place Hotel, did not respond in time for publication, and the structure of their de-escalation training remains unclear.
However, the issues go far beyond favouritism and de-escalation. From sexual assault to a lack of communication when other residents die, residents view the shelter as a hellscape to live in.
Assault at The Bond
Physical safety has been a concern for residents, specifically in regards to sexual assault. According to Jewell, staff were allegedly informed of a resident who had sexually assaulted multiple women in the shelter and the shelter administration did not take immediate action.
“I’ve had so many women in my room crying and curled up on the floor,” says Jewell. According to Jewell, while the perpetrator was arrested, a number of sexual predators remain in the building.
Marianna Reis, a member of ESN Parkdale, says that prior to the collective's involvement with Bond residents, there had been an initiative by residents to push for women and gender-oppressed-only floors. According to Jewell, residents are slowly being moved up to the two dedicated floors which was a result of the attention received from the Twitter account.
“[What] I hear most often about the Bond is that there’s a lot of violence against women and gender-oppressed people,” says Reis. “That’s something we see across the shelter system—that they're disproportionately dealing with abuse.”
With all the issues at hand, filing a complaint or even speaking up is an incredibly difficult and straining process.
Under both the Toronto Shelter Standard (TSS) and Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) the Bond has failed to provide adequate and ethical living conditions, according to allegations made by residents.
Through these allegations, Bond staff and shelter operators, Dixon Hall haven’t respected section six of TSS in regards to clients' rights and responsibilities. This also includes the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and Residential Tenancy Act not being implemented correctly.
In one instance, shelter staff told a resident to buy their own hygiene products using their Ontario Works and/or Ontario Disability Support Payment. According to section nine subsection, 1.2 of the TSS, “shelter providers will assist residents in accessing hygiene products, at a minimum providing them with basic hygiene necessities per admission.”
In an email to The Hoser, the city’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) stated that shelter staff have many years of experience working with those unhoused in the city. In regards to sexual assault, the city stated “any harassing or violent behaviour is not tolerated in any of the City's shelter sites.”
“If anyone feels like they are in an unsafe situation, or has been assaulted, we strongly encourage them to speak to any of the onsite shelter staff or support service providers.”
For some residents, like Jason Richie, the issue also lies in clear communication and false promises made by staff and caseworkers. Richie has been a resident of the Bond for the last 18 months, during which Richie and his wife had a child.
“They told me within five months, plus with your wife being pregnant, you’re a priority [for permanent housing,]” says Richie. “I haven’t even looked at a place.”
Since then, Richie has been consistently promised house viewings and caseworkers have consistently cancelled appointments. Now, Richie’s child is reaching the age of one, and according to Richie, if the couple doesn’t find housing within the next two months they will lose the chance of gaining custody of their son.
“Watching my kid be taken care of by somebody else every single Tuesday for almost a year kills me,” he says. “I’m thinking about my child, not me and my wife.”
According to Richie, it takes a week to contact his caseworker and most of the time they don’t call back. Alongside Jewell, Richie was also trapped in the building in February 2021 when a fire broke out on the fifth floor. Both residents mentioned how emergency exits were locked and residents were unable to leave.
Richie, who was on the floor where the fire broke out, had to manually push the door open with another resident to escape. This goes against Ontario’s Fire Protection and Prevention Act as emergency exits are inaccessible.
“My room was full of smoke, I was coughing up black stuff…they never replaced my stuff and they didn’t reimburse me either,” says Richie. “Nothing—they didn’t even say sorry.”
The lack of communication from staff has been constant at the Bond, according to residents. In regards to the deaths of Bond residents, both Jewell and Richie said staff don’t let them know if their friends have died.
“If I have a friend in there and they die in my arms, there’s nothing, and then four days later someone else is in the room and all [my friends] stuff is in the trash,” says Jewell. The only other way residents are aware of deaths in the building is when people are taken out in body bags. According to Jewell, it used to be once a week.
Reis says that they have not been contacted by Dixon Hall in regards to internal issues at the Bond. Jewell stated that she began to see small changes once the account had been made, but the pressing issues still have yet to be acknowledged.
In response, according to residents, the shelter announced a general meeting for residents to express their complaints and began to put up flyers for mental health resources.
“Our Twitter account prompted the first resident meeting that Dixon Hall organized,” says Reis. “Many of the residents weren’t aware of this meeting because of how poorly advertised it was.”
On another occasion, Dixon Hall staff provided residents with feedback surveys with a cash honorarium of $20. This also came with issues.
“They said “well we’ve ran out of surveys” and told us to come back tomorrow…we came back at 12 p.m. and nobody was there,” says Dring. Eventually, they came back a week later and provided more surveys.
“They weren’t bad but they kind of messed around at first, a lot of people can use that $20,” says Dring. “They sort of pull it away at the last second just to see how you’d react and then they kind of have a reason to throw you out.”
The SSHA acknowledged the survey in an email and said “a couple of weeks ago, the Toronto Shelter Network (TSN) did a survey, with follow-up interviews. A cash honorarium was offered to encourage participation and in recognition of people’s time. Residents were informed a week prior and contacted TSN to indicate their interest to complete the survey.”
Since its introduction as shelter hotel, some residents have taken the responsibility of advocating for safety within the Bond. Currently, groups of residents and members of ESN Parkdale have begun tabling initiatives adjacent to the shelter to provide residents with coffee, food and support weekly.
“Having a one-day thing a week has helped me to get more stabilized,” says Dring. “Now I’ve gotten back on track, and mixing with different people that are outside, not just stuck in this mess.”
This article is dedicated to Graeme Dring.
The following is a short note by his friend, Jennifer Jewell: Graeme was a really kind person and I trusted him, which is rare in this sort of environment. I miss him. Every time someone knocks on my door I think it’s him. I didn’t answer my door for a couple of days, I just couldn’t, and even now I keep thinking it’s him. Knowing he’s gone still doesn’t feel like he’s gone. Graeme was an important part of my life and I’m tired of all the death here, I’m tired of loosing my friends. There are friends that I’ve lost and I can’t even confirm if they’re gone or not because they’re just not here anymore. They put someone in Graeme’s room the same night they took him off life support. All of his stuff is gone.