Construction begins on Parkdale building that will create 51 homes for people facing homelessness
Housing central to health care for marginalized people, doctor says
Construction has begun on a Parkdale apartment building that will provide supportive housing for 51 marginalized people in Toronto.
The occupants, not yet chosen, will be people who are facing or experiencing homelessness and who have high health needs, according to Dr. Andrew Boozary, a primary care physician and executive director of the University Health Network's Gattuso Centre for Social Medicine.
The building, designed to be four storeys, will be located at 150 Dunn Ave., near King Street West and Jameson Avenue. The construction site is a parking lot owned by UHN. Seniors, women, Indigenous people, racialized people and people with disabilities are expected to reside in the building once it's completed in the fall.
"Homelessness is a public health crisis," Boozary said on Saturday. "We have long seen the impacts of homelessness as a terminal condition for people. Housing is a fundamental aspect of health outcomes and housing and health are inextricably linked."
Boozary said homelessness, along with a lack of access to housing, is a driver of poor health outcomes and a solution to the health problems of unhoused people is housing.
For example, the life expectancy of unhoused people is half that of the general public. As well, unhoused people have been punished by the COVID-19 pandemic. He said they are 20 times more likely by infected by COVID-19, 10 times more likely to be admitted to a hospital and five times more likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit. Data shows that 88 unhoused people accounted for 7,700 emergency department visits in Toronto in 2020, he said.
The building, which will be modular, will include health and social supports, Boozary added. Details are to be worked out but those supports will likely include harm reduction with access to nursing and primary care and the supports will be made available through a mix of providers, including community agencies, he said. Peer workers are expected to be part of the supports, he added.
He said the building is an attempt to deliver "some preferential options" for people who have suffered "devastating" health outcomes from homelessness.
"We need to see a different way of caring for people and housing is so central to that," Boozary said.
UHN consulted with more than 20 people with lived experience of homelessness on the design of the supports and the housing itself, he said.
Boozary said partnerships between the city, hospital network, all levels of government and the community is making the project happen. The United Way Greater Toronto is also involved.
"We really need to see these sort of partnerships take place that cut across sectors to provide a preferential option and better care for people who have long been marginalized and shut out of the health outcomes that everyone deserves," he said.
According to the UHN, the Gattuso Centre for Social Medicine is working closely with UHN's emergency departments to identify people from eligible groups who would benefit most from the housing.
City receives $201.5M in federal funds for housing
In a news release on Friday, the city said it is using federal funds, plus a ministerial zoning order to speed the development process, to construct the building. The project is called "modular transitional housing."
Mayor John Tory said at a news conference on Friday that the city has received more than $238 million to create more than 600 new affordable rental homes as part of the first phase of the federal government's Rapid Housing Initiative. The Parkdale building is part of the first phase.
"Fifty-one is a great start," Tory told reporters. "Fifty-one homes is a going to be great contribution to the lives of people who are going to be affected by that."
Tory also said the city has received $201.5 million from the federal government for phase two of the federal initiative and that money will enable it to create more than 400 new affordable and supportive homes in Toronto.
Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão said housing is a health-care issue and housing needs to be prescribed by the health-care system to solve health problems. She said 47 per cent of people in Toronto's shelter system are chronically homeless.
"We need this as a solution. The solution is housing. Housing is part of health care," Bailão said.