Mayor announces plan to fight homelessness amid COVID-19 as council prepares for first virtual meeting

Toronto City Council will hold a special meeting online Thursday due to restrictions on public gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 death toll reaches 347 in Toronto, an increase of 42 deaths from Tuesday

For the first time ever Toronto city council is set to hold a special meeting online Thursday due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Toronto City Council will hold a special meeting online Thursday due to restrictions on public gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

City councillors will use an online video conferencing platform while the public can watch a livestream of the meeting.

It's the first time councillors in Canada's most populous city will meet virtually.

Mayor John Tory's report on the COVID-19 emergency response is on the agenda, which has already been posted online.

City announces plan to build 110 modular homes

Meanwhile, in a news release issued Wednesday, Tory announced a proposed plan to fight homelessness that would create 110 modular homes on two city-owned sites. 

Temporary modular housing can often be constructed more quickly than permanent housing, offering temporary relief while other permanent housing is being built elsewhere.

The city's new modular homes, which are expected to be ready for occupancy by September 2020, will provide "stable, affordable housing and support services to individuals experiencing homelessness." 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city says it is putting forward an increased effort to move forward quickly with the modular pilot. 

"We know helping people with supportive housing is good for everyone and modular housing is a way to make that happen faster," Tory said in the release.

"The pandemic has heightened the need for supportive housing and I have asked City staff to move this project at an urgent pace."

The project is estimated to cost the city $20.9 million, according to the release.

Operating funding for health-related support services and housing subsidies will be requested from the province. 

The terms of the proposed contract will be reviewed and considered by City Council at its April 30 meeting.

"I hope council will agree, and approve the first stages of this plan," Tory said Wednesday. 

"I hope this will be a healthy and safe plan to those who need housing today." 

City to provide interim housing for people sleeping outdoors

The city also says it will provide interim housing for people sleeping outdoors, which will be located in two vacant mid-rise apartment buildings in midtown Toronto, and will offer a total of 125 furnished units for clients.

The property, owned by the Times Group, is slated for demolition as part of a revitalization project and is available to the city until the construction project is given the green light to continue. 

According to a news release issued by the city on Wednesday, clients will be provided on-site meals and staff support. 

"This interim housing will help act as a bridge to more permanent housing options for these residents," the release states. 

Toronto COVID-19 death toll reaches 347

As of Wednesday, a total of 347 people have died of COVID-19 in Toronto, an increase of 42 deaths from Tuesday. 

At Wednesday's news briefing, Dr. Eileen De Villa, the city's medical officer of health, said there are 111 people in intensive care units and 354 hospitalizations. 

Toronto has had 5,360 cases of COVID-19, 515 of which are probable, according to data provided by the city.

While de Villa said it's "welcome news" that the city is providing temporary supportive housing, she said she remains "concerned about the devastating impact that COVID-19 is having on our community and our most-vulnerable residents."

1 child, 4 staff members test positive at child-care centre 

Tory, meanwhile, said the city has launched an investigation into a city-run emergency child-care centre after four staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

According to the city, an eight-month-old baby has now also tested positive at Jesse Ketchum Early Learning and Child Care Centre, located near Davenport Road and Avenue Road.

One staff member is awaiting test results. 

"We need to let the investigation proceed, understand what the circumstances might have been and then take action as necessary," de Villa said of the investigation. 

"We were disappointed to have to close the centre because we know it was providing a much-needed service." 

City launches virtual High Park 'bloom cam'

Also at the briefing on Wednesday, Tory announced that the city is closing High Park as of Thursday to stop people from gathering to see the cherry blossoms, which are expected to be in the peak period of their bloom in the coming days. 

Tory said that's why the city launched a virtual "bloom cam" in High Park, adding that "this is about protecting public health and saving lives."

Fences to discourage gatherings to see the cherry blossoms are seen in Toronto's High Park. The park will be closed as of Thursday as the cherry blossoms enter their peak bloom period. (Doug Husby/CBC)

Tory said 10,000 people annually show up to see the blossoms and the city can't let "even a fraction" of those visitors come in contact with each other amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The city said it will provide a continuous livestream of the cherry tree grove in High Park, plus multiple live events and videos featuring virtual walk-throughs of the blossoming trees. 

Check out the city's bloom cam below: 

With files from The Canadian Press