A crisis can teach us a great deal. Not just about who we are, but also about who we want to be.
In a few short weeks, COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way we live. Our work habits, our commutes, our daily routines – all have shifted.
The City of Toronto and Toronto Public Health have been preparing for COVID-19 for months. Thousands of hours of planning have gone into ensuring a swift response.
And all across our city, people are offering to help. Frontline heroes in healthcare, emergency services, and customer service sectors are working around the clock to keep us safe. Residents are offering to pick up prescriptions or do a grocery run for their neighbours. And governments are pioneering policy ideas and programs during this difficult time.
In Toronto, we have set up a City-Community Response Table of more than 30 agencies that meets daily to address the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities. We’ve divided the city up into 10 neighbourhood clusters and partnered with the United Way to connect with neighbourhood groups and agencies that can continue supporting Toronto residents. By calling 211, residents can be connected to community resources and mental health supports.
The City is also continuing to assist seniors and in partnership with Second Harvest, the Daily Bread Food Bank, and the Red Cross we’ve set up a Food Security Table to make sure that food programs, including food banks, can stay open.
We have worked to open new shelter locations and established a self-isolation facility for homeless individuals awaiting test results for COVID-19 and a recovery facility for homeless people who test positive. To support essential workers, including frontline health care workers, licensed free childcare will be available for children up to age 12.
These responses, however, are just the beginning. Much more will need to be done to stem the tide.
This pandemic requires us to act now. The health and safety of Torontonians demand an emergency response. But this emergency also presents a chance to think about what supports should be in place, and not just during a crisis.
If we can provide free childcare to working parents during this emergency, why can’t we implement universal childcare?
If we can rapidly house families in motel and hotel rooms, why can’t we invest in supportive and rent-geared-to-income housing so people have stable, permanent housing they can afford?
If we can make sure that seniors get the help they need, why can’t we eliminate food deserts and expand community hubs in the city?
If the true measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable, the same can be said of a city. This crisis could be a turning point for how we can continue to take care of one another.
Joe Cressy is chair of the Toronto Board of Health and the City Councillor for Ward 10 (Spadina-Fort York).