Darlene Stimson spoke with anger and grief, standing at the base of the church steps, of the many systems who failed her loving and trusting son.
“He never let illness or pain get in the way of being the most generous human being I have ever known,” said Stimson, about the six-foot-tall man who loved wrestling and karaoke and who, because of early health challenges, viewed much of the world through the eyes of 12-year-old child.
“In the end, while it was a respiratory infection that resulted in Adam’s death, the proximate cause was a social safety net that let him down.”
Stimson’s son Adam Turner, 43, had been staying in an emergency shelter when he was rushed to hospital in late November and died. On Tuesday, Turner’s name along with the names of 13 other men and women were added to the Homeless Memorial outside of the Church of the Holy Trinity. One man had recently secured housing after spending many years on the streets.
Those attending the homeless memorial, held on the second Tuesday of each month, were told the number of names has hit 995.
The memorial took place as the city’s planning and housing committee considered a new housing action plan — a 10-year blueprint set to be debated at council this month — steps away at city hall.
After championing activist demands to strengthen the plan, Coun. Gord Perks (Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park) and Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 13, Toronto Centre) backed off a motion that would have asked council to declare homelessness an emergency and for the mayor to immediately call a summit with the other levels of government.
Instead, the committee supported a motion from Mayor John Tory’s affordable housing advocate Coun. Ana Bailao to recognize the situation as a “critical issue.”
“Thirteen people have died in this city in the last 30 days. That’s almost a 1,000 since they started to name homeless deaths,” said a visibly upset Wong-Tam “These are the ones that we know. If that doesn’t indicate that we are in an emergency then I really don’t know what words to use at council.”
“The interventions are entirely different when we say this is a significant problem. It goes beyond crisis.”
The mayor has the power to unilaterally declare an emergency under city rules that would allow him to divert resources or take other action he “considers necessary” to protect residents. Despite repeated calls for him to do so, Tory has never backed taking those steps.
Wong-Tam, speaking at the committee Tuesday, said they could not come to an agreement on the language of a motion and it was doomed to fail. The committee was down to just four members on Tuesday with two councillors absent. Besides Perks and Wong-Tam, Bailao (Ward 9, Davenport) and Coun. Brad Bradford (Ward 19, Beaches-East York) were in attendance — whom Wong-Tam suggested would not back the emergency motion. All motions lose on a tied vote.
Senior staff from Tory’s office were seen earlier in the committee room meeting with Perks and Wong-Tam.
Wong-Tam said they would continue to work on a motion ahead of council, which will have final say on the housing plan when it meets next week.
At committee, the action plan passed unanimously but action would not be immediate if approved as is. Bailao asked for an implementation plan to be brought to committee by June 2020 and any additional city resources required to be considered in the 2021 budget.
Other amendments Perks put forward to strengthen the plan also passed, including that staff report to council with an annual housing target that can be reached regardless of whether the other governments contribute funding.
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Perks said he “struggled” with a plan he felt fell short of what other major cities have done and what could be possible across Toronto.
“Maybe by the time we get to the end of this 10-year plan we will have the kind of social-owned, stable, reliable, quality housing system that so many other cities in the developed and developing world have. That is my hope. I’m taking a leap of faith today.”
He described those in a attendance “as a mighty force in city of Toronto politics” and praised them for their work leading up to the creation of the plan.
Among the issues raised at the committee on Tuesday was Toronto’s approach to density. Mark Richardson, technical lead for open data and civic tech project HousingNowTO.com, said the city must take a “bolder” approach or risk falling far short of actual need.
Richardson pointed to a .84-acre city-owned site at 140 Merton St., home to a War Amps building that was assigned with a heritage designation in 2017. Designations must be chosen carefully, Richardson said, in a city with an aging population and more people living alone.
“You have a grey wave coming and you need to get ready for it,” said Richardson, noting “disruptive” density has been identified by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation as necessary for economic growth.
At the memorial, Stimson told the Star she plans to use her family’s loss to fight for better services for people in need. An adult student at George Brown, she has her sights set on studying at Osgoode Hall and doing some kind of advocacy.
In his final months, she said, her son spoke regularly with his younger brother on the phone — sobbing about physical pain he was unable to get help for. “That is what his brother and I are focusing on right now. That he is not in pain anymore.”
While the official funeral has not taken place yet, they have decided his ashes will be stored inside a Tasmanian Devil cookie jar, a detail he would have appreciated.
Patricia O’Connell, former executive director of 24-7 drop-in centre Sistering, attended the memorial then walked to the committee room to plead with the city to prevent what she called needless deaths.
What is happening in Toronto is and should be called a disaster, O’Connell said.
“You have to do something about this … It is soul destroying to see people die in this city.”