Monday, September 27, 2010


What St. Jamestown Teaches Us - and the Questions It Raises

Last Friday's (Sept 24) 6-alarm fire at 200 Wellesley Street, the Toronto Community Housing complex of St. Jamestown, has left over 1,200 people homeless. (Some say the figure is inaccurate and that as many as 1,700 lived there) Many of those are frail, senior citizens, disabled, suffering from mental illness or at least suffering the low income life of poverty. City emergency crews in the form of fire response and paramedics were on the scene quickly and had a very difficult time putting a fire out in an apartment bedroom on the 24th floor, rumoured to have been made worse by a hoarding individual who lived there. (Hoarding is a kind of addiction, often suffered by those on low income who gather goods others might consider trash and fill up their living spaces with the false comfort of consumerism).

HOWEVER - our city's overall response in such situations is lacking. Some have labelled the situation 'Toronto's Katrina' (in reference to mass flooding and poor official response to needy residents) - perhaps over-exaggerated, but it does put it in perspective. Displaced residents are being shuffled about in a patchwork of temporary housing and other supports, with much of the support coming from the community and not city hall.

For more background on this situation see:

  1. Where was our Mayor in such a significant tragedy and disaster? Providing leadership, comfort and reassurance was needed.
  2. Why was there not an efficient, coordinated response? We are a city of several millions, much of us living in densely packed vertical towers.
  3. Why was Toronto Community Housing (owned by the city) not proactive and prepared for such an eventuality? Fire officials say the 1968 building was up to code for that time, so had no sprinklers.So why was TCHC not active in taking measures to reduce the risk of fire there? Were there fire drills? Where was the plan for what has happened?
  4. Why don't we know the exact number of people living there? 1200 or 1700?
  5. Why does our city not have a master disaster plan that works?

I recall the problems the city had many years back when the 'Tent City' that had sprung up for the homeless by the lake was shut down. There was much chaos in trying to find places to put people the bulldozers had removed.

There is no excuse for our city not to be prepared for such situations. Services all over the city are disconnected and have their own 'mandate' or 'priorities' and are not properly coordinated. Toronto City Hall needs a PLAN to be ready for this in future. Surprises and disasters can happen anywhere, anytime and we must be ready... because...


Note: On Twitter the hastag #wellesleyfire has gathered comments and information. Mayoral candidate HiMY SYeD is organizing a fundraiser for this Thursday, September 30 - 519 Church Community Centre - 7:00pm to 9:00pm. Volunteers needed.