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Christina recalls the first night she and her boyfriend spent at 45 The Esplanade’s Novotel hotel-shelter. After relocating from living on the street to the shelter in April 2022, Christina was given a room with bloodstained walls. According to Christina, a resident allegedly died in that room and staff did not clean it thoroughly before her placement.

“They made us sign a contract stating ‘this is how we accept the room’ and we had no carpet and no heat,” she said. While Christina's room lacked carpeting, each room in the shelter is meant to have carpeting and an accessible bed. According to Toronto Shelter Standards, the living spaces must also have heating, however other residents have reported rooms without heating. 

“We painted the walls to make it look nicer,” said Christina. But in early October, three days after Christina’s boyfriend painted over the bloodstains, the couple was kicked out for “property damage.” Christina was given five minutes to pack and some of her belongings were disposed of. She was seven months pregnant at the time of her discharge. 

According to Christina, upon their release, a supervisor promised the couple they would get their room back. Christina and her partner stayed in a tent while they waited to return to the Novotel. 

“We came back after seven days, then after 18 days and we didn’t get [the room] back,” she said. “They didn’t do anything.” Street Outreach, a city-run program that provides support to those experiencing homelessness, relocated Christina during her time living in the tent. Initially, she was offered a space at the Delta Nights Inn, another hotel shelter on Kennedy Rd. in Scarborough, but due to sexual violence she experienced there two years earlier, Christina did not feel safe to return. 

For Christina, relocating to Scarborough was not the best option regardless, due to the lack of access to her doctor and being away from her community. According to advocates and residents at Novotel, Christina chose to live in a tent instead of the Delta Nights Inn. 

Christina was never given discharge or appeal papers upon her discharge. Without these documents, people who rely on the shelter system are greatly hindered in their ability to be placed in permanent housing.

On October 11, the City of Toronto announced that the Novotel hotel shelter would be decommissioned at the end of 2022. Other residents before and after Christina have previously reported unjust evictions, but since the closure announcement, the rate of these discharges has escalated while justifications for the evictions have been lacking. 

The announcement initially stated that “all residents will be relocated by December 31” and that Homes First Society, a long-term housing organization, would be working with residents on relocation plans. These are to include transition to either permanent housing or another shelter location. Subsequently, however, residents’ window for relocation was significantly shortened due to “time and space needed to remove materials and furniture.” All remaining residents at the hotel shelter are now expected to vacate by Tuesday, December 6.

Once the program was decommissioned, staff began discharging residents who had previous incidents on their files. Daniel was one of those residents: he was discharged for assisting Christina during an altercation. According to Daniel, residents with existing physical or verbal altercations on their files were being discharged after the Novotel was decommissioned as a shelter. Daniel wasn’t aware of this until his eviction, as previously he was temporarily discharged (for three days) for his involvement in allegedly defending another woman in the shelter. Daniel was then discharged permanently on November 1.

“To my understanding, this [system] was [built] to help you,” he said. Daniel said staff misuse the opportunity to help residents and support them and aren’t doing the jobs they were hired for. 

Daniel said it's bad enough that unhoused people are stigmatized and stereotyped, but to have a shelter not prioritize residents’ needs just exacerbates the inequities they already face. 

“When they come out of [the hotel] and we come out, we go to the streets and they get to go home,” he said. “We go back to the same world, or worse.”

Another resident, Rob, was told by staff that he had two weeks to figure out where he would live once the Novotel closed its doors. When asked for assistance with housing, he was told by a housing worker that he would have to do it himself because he is “capable.”

“When you’re down, they kick you even more,” he says. “They kick [residents] out and throw their stuff out, they don’t hold anyone's stuff, if you go check the bins in the back it's filled with [ex-residents] stuff.”

Rob said the staff did not communicate with residents about the closure and that residents are getting discharged regularly. “Some people are getting relocated and some are just being kicked out,” he said. All residents are expected to be out of the Novotel this week. According to Rob, up to 10 residents per day are discharged and most are discharged between 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.

“[Most residents] have nowhere to go, so how can you kick someone out when it's cold like this?” he says. 

The shelter said that people are being relocated to include the Delta Nights Inn at 2035 Kennedy Rd, Willowdale Welcome Centre at 5800 Yonge and 545 Lakeshore, among others. 

Previous Novotel resident Gru has been compiling data on the discharges of residents at the Novotel. In this data, Gru has included the capacity of the hotel and how many residents have been evicted on a daily basis. According to Gru’s data, Between November 1 and November 19, 87 residents were discharged, dropping occupancy from 166 to 79 within two weeks. Previously, on October 11, when the statement was released by the city, the building held 251 residents. 

Novotel hotel-shelter residents and advocates gathered in front of Gordon Tanner's office, who works as the general manager for Toronto's Shelter Support and Housing Administration on November 15, 2022. Photo by Rhea Singh

On November 15, residents and advocates held a rally in front of the general manager of the City’s Shelter Support and Housing Administration (SSHA), Gordon Tanner’s office on John St. Residents Dredz, Hussain and Rob spoke about their experience within the shelter. Rachelle Friessen, a community organizer, also spoke about her experience helping residents at the shelter hotel. The rally pushed for better transitional housing, acknowledging unjust discharges and living conditions.

“We did a phone zap a couple of weeks ago to Homes First and Gord Tanner with demands that the Novotel residents had made themselves,” Friessen said. “Homes First shut down their line and Gord Tanner never picked up.”

Shelter residents and advocates decided to meet Tanner at his office. By the end of the rally, Dredz and Rob met with Tanner to share a list of demands and letters written by residents. 

An email sent from Tanner’s office to a shelter advocate on November 21 stated that the hotel currently houses 90 residents. In the email, the representative stated that they have shared feedback with HFS regarding the issues brought up in the meeting. 

Following Tanner’s email, Patricia Mueller, chief executive officer of HFS, sent an email stating that residents were given assistance for relocation. However, residents like Rob were denied assistance and told to find housing on their own.

“All residents at 45 The Esplanade have been offered support, the Homes First client support team has been knocking on every client’s door to develop transition and housing plans; however, some residents have opted not to accept supports offered,” wrote Mueller.

Protestors approach the Novotel shelter in Toronto on November 28, 2022. Photo by Laura Proctor

On November 28, residents and advocates rallied at the Novotel to emphasize their demands once more. These included an end to unjust evictions, clearer relocation plans, an end to two-bag limits and financial compensation for belongings that were thrown out by Novotel staff. A group of supporters and residents walked into the building and shared their concerns with community staff, police and site manager Lacey Kerr. 

The rally resulted in over 20 police officers blocking the entrance to the building, one arrest and the eviction of a resident. Many supporters were dragged out of the building and the rally continued outside the hotel doors. 

The Hoser reached out to Homes First Society, the support services organization that ran the Novotel before its closing, but did not hear back in time for publication. 

The future remains uncertain for over 200 residents who lived at the Novotel. Some have been placed in housing, but those who have not are preparing themselves for the possibility of spending the winter ahead in tents scattered across the city.

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Dec 5, 2022
Local News
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