TC Talks: Downtown East Action Plan Recap

Thanks to everyone who attended our final Toronto Centre Talks (TC Talks) of 2024 last month. I launched this forum series to create a space where community members can come together for focused and solution-oriented discussions on important topics.

This month, we delved into the refreshed Downtown East Action Plan (DEAP), a timely topic because the new DEAP 2025-2030 is coming to Council in July for approval. We started the evening with a presentation on the background of the 2018-2023 DEAP, its successes, challenges and my recommendations for the updated plan.

I presented concerns that residents have shared with my office about the condition of our Downtown East. Those issues include public drug use, encampments, homelessness, unclean laneways and sidewalks, graffiti, broken windows, break-ins, public intoxication, used needles and the noticeable lack of visible enforcement. These concerns are very real and underscore the need for a comprehensive and collaborative approach to improve safety and cleanliness in our neighbourhoods.

I also spoke to the root causes of these issues, such as the lack of affordable housing and addiction treatment centres. While the City can work to alleviate the symptoms, addressing the root causes requires a broader effort and collaboration across all levels of governments and sectors.

Daniel Bondi, Manager of the Community Infrastructure Unit in the Social Development, Finance and Administration division and his team provided a high-level overview of the new DEAP. It was helpful to see that their proposals align with my recommendations, reinforcing our shared vision for a revitalized Downtown East. After the presentation, we had a roundtable discussion focusing on the four pillars of the plan which are:

  1. Creating Safe and Inclusive Communities;
  2. Building Cross-Sectoral Trust and Collaboration;
  3. Ensuring Stability for Marginalized People; and
  4. Effective Implementation of the Plan.

Attendees raised concerns about the social inequality and poverty in Downtown East, substance abuse, crime, safety, mental health issues and poor responses from 311. They also discussed revitalizing the Dundas Street East and Sherbourne Street corridor, the need for the DEAP to involve higher government levels and more accountability oversight. They also called for the City to be proactive and to better program and animate public parks to increase their use.

To create safe and inclusive communities, I recommend establishing a dedicated Clean Streets Team to enhance cleaning services in our streets, parks and laneways. To address the costs to small businesses that are having their windows broken, I am advocating for a cost-sharing program for glass window replacements. I also would like to see additional support for community engagement teams tasked with addressing social disorder in high-trafficked and problematic areas.

To build trust and collaboration across sectors, I propose establishing a centralized approach to outreach and service provision, implementing enhanced accountability mechanisms for service providers, streamlining access to resources, introducing good neighbor policies, and improving coordination among service providers. These measures will address service gaps and enhance the overall effectiveness of the plan.

To ensure stability for marginalized individuals, we must prioritize the Downtown East Housing Strategy. This involves revitalizing the Dan Harrison Community Complex and George Street. Furthermore, the Moss Park community, particularly the Moss Park apartments, needs to be included in the Dundas-Sherbourne Community Development Plan. The plan should focus on providing economic and social stability for marginalized residents by investing in job training programs, supporting small businesses, expanding mental health services, increasing funding for local food banks and establishing 24/7 free automated self-cleaning public washrooms.

To ensure the effective implementation of the plan, I recommend reorganizing the DEAP under the Community Safety & Wellbeing unit with the Social Development, Finance and Administration division

 

2025-2030 Downtown East Action Plan 

I am happy to share that your feedback during the Fall consultation and my subsequent  recommendations have shaped the 2025-2030 DEAP Action Plan. Below is a non-exhaustive list of recommendations and actions outlined in the new Action Plan which will come to effect in 2025.

  1. Enhanced Cleaning Services Levels:
    • Increase cleanliness of streets, parks, and laneways through enhanced cleaning services.
    • Decrease the number of improperly disposed sharps/drug use supplies.
  2. Community Safety and Bylaw Enforcement Services:
    • Provide bylaw enforcement in public facilities, parks, streets, laneways, and private property.
    • Improve compliance with bylaws and response times for non-emergency reports.
  3. Access To Safe Indoor/Outdoor Public Spaces:
    • Improve access to safe indoor/outdoor spaces for marginalized people.
    • Increase capacity for Parks, Forestry and Recreation, Toronto Shelter and Support Services, and Library staff to accommodate marginalized people.
  4. Safe and Inclusive Downtown East Grant Program:
    • Develop a grant program to resource existing initiatives and interventions that address crisis intervention, de-escalation, and short-term case management.
  5. Community Education and Training
    • Provide training and education opportunities for community members and agencies to respond to mental health crises, substance use, and homelessness.
  6. Washroom Enhancement Program:
    • Review Park washrooms citywide and explore the feasibility of year-round usage or new builds.
  7. People with Lived Experience Advisory Group:
    • Develop a People with Lived Experience Advisory Group for the Downtown East Action Plan and the Dundas and Sherbourne Community Development Plan.
  8. Storefront Supports for Businesses:
    • Provide financial support for Business Improvement Areas and businesses to address vandalism, public realm concerns, and glass window replacement.
  9. Community and Clean Streets Initiative:
    • Mobilize a clean-up program in coordination with Downtown East Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) and community agencies to enhance cleanliness in high-trafficked areas.
  10. Community Engagement Teams:
    • Support the Community Engagement Team led by the Downtown Yonge BIA and explore activating teams in other Downtown East BIAs.
  11. Community Safety Summits:
    • Mobilize local community groups and safety networks annually to collaborate on neighbourhood-based community safety initiatives.
  12. Strengthening Neighbourhoods Grant (Downtown East):
    • Develop a grant program to fund resident-led groups and associations to address concerns in their neighbourhoods.
  13. Advance Reconciliation:
    • Support Indigenous placemaking and place-keeping activities in the Downtown East area.
  14. Mobilize the DEAP Leadership Table:
    • Continue the Leadership Table to provide oversight and advance strategic issues, collaborations, and responses to chronic issues.

As your councillor, I will continue work to ensure that the DEAP meets its goals and remains accountable and responsive to community needs. The City will update its website with relevant information on plan implementation and centralized community resources. There will be quarterly regional "Downtown East Action Plan Community Conversations'' to keep the public informed, and a dashboard developed to monitor Action Plan progress and outcomes. These actions will ensure ongoing public engagement and transparency by providing opportunities for community input and feedback throughout the plant's life cycle.

Thank you once again for your support and active participation. Together, we can make the Downtown East a safer, cleaner, and more inclusive place for everyone. Please continue to stay engaged as we move forward with these important discussions. 

I plan to host a new set of TC Talks in 2025, and am currently planning another round of Town Halls for the fall, so I look forward to further discussions with you!

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