Above is a photo of one many posters that TCHC and Toronto Fire have posted around the Regent Park community. I wonder how much they cost and if they can get their money back.
To begin with, the press conference (held on September 16th, 2019 at the 325 Fire Hall on Dundas Street East) announcing this new joint venture fire safety campaign involving TCHC and Toronto Fire was headlined by two older white men (TCHC CEO - Kevin Marshman & Toronto Fire - Deputy Fire Chief Jim Jessop.) Now, I'm not sure about many things but last time I checked the majority of kitchen fires were reported to have been in units where there were young adults on the lease. Many of whom would be people of colour.
Then I'm left wondering with all the many consultation processes over the last several years if TCHC conducted any type of market research or focus groups to assist with the creation of this message. Specifically, to ensure that it would appeal to the particular age demographic in this particular community. (Sidebar - I loved the TCHC "Don't Be A Flicking Idiot" campaign posters. Just sayin') Maybe in the future the Fire Safety Ambassadors they mentioned at the press conference could be drawn from the demographic that is most likely at risk of leaving food unattended on the stove.
In other words, the message needs to be from someone that they would be able to identify with and in their language (lingo). Meanwhile, this poster reads like a challenge. Fires Happen Fast. I have more questions from seeing it than answers. Maybe the next Fire Safety Awareness Campaign could have a photo of the silicone oven mitt and a pot lid. #PutALidOnIt As I have said before this is the issue at TCHC. They are more problem focussed than they are solution oriented.
Furthermore, as a little extra promotion of my proposed Fire Safety Awareness Campaign at TCHC they are welcome to raffle off some of those pricey silicone oven mitts at community events. I have a cheap pair of dollar store oven mitts that burn me every time I grab a cookie sheet or bread pan out of the oven. Never mind expecting it to hold up against a pot on fire.
Please keep in mind that my deputation to the Executive Committee at the City of Toronto on item 7.1 - Implementing Tenants First - A New Seniors Housing Corporation and Proposed Changes to Toronto Community Housing Corporations Governance was begun at 8:00 a.m. the day of the meeting on July 4th, 2019. Then submitted via email at approximately 9:15 a.m. Cutting it close I agree. Apologies in advance for not publishing written work that meets my usual standards. But I believe you will understand the broad strokes. Here's the link to the complete unedited version that appears on the City of Toronto's website.
A couple weeks ago I spent over an hour and a half outside the front of my #TorontoCommunityHousingCorporation building picking up cigarette butts. (No worries I had gloves on.) Why would I do this? Because I want to reinforce the notion that #TCHC needs to go smoke free ASAP. Every one of those butts represent the possibility of a fire. What's even more interesting is the amount of time it took for that many butts and the crack pipe to appear on the tiny parcels of land that make up the front lawn. Given that the sod was just placed in the late fall 2018 and I collected them at the end of April 2019 that's just a six month accumulation. The small sections of lawn I picked these butts up from is right on front of the daycare. Yeah, that daycare. As if that's not bad enough they want to turn these small grass patches into an infant play space. Good luck with that!
May 5th Part One - So the Gilder Early Learning and Child Care Center (daycare) in my #TorontoCommunityHousing building has decided to upgrade their infant and toddler play spaces. From what I can see these pieces of playground equipment are still in great shape and the one for toddlers has more accessibility features than what is available on the playground equipment used by the #TCHC community as a whole. Has any thought or consideration been given to recycling this playground equipment? There is plenty of room to install the equipment behind the #TorontoCommunityHousingCorporation low rises here on Gilder. I really wish TCHC and affiliates would quit working in silos to have best possible outcome for the community as a whole instead of having competing interests vying for space and funding. #Recycle #Accessible #Playground #Equipment #Silos #hope_still_lives_here
May 5th Part Two - I would dearly love to know who gave Gilder Early Learning and Child Care Center permission to commandeer our basketball court. Installing gates at both entrances and placing one of their sheds in the corner of the court without any consultation with the rest of this #TCHC community is disrespectful. Especially given that the daycare was given a seat on the committee that managed to have the basketball court upgraded in the first place. Where was the quid pro quo? Plus, Gilder is not exactly overrun with activities that can keep #TorontoCommunityHousing children and youth busy over the warmer months. Removing access to the one activity that they don't have to sign up to participate in is detrimental to the youth and the community at large. #Children #Youth #TorontoCommunityHousingCorporation #Basketball #hope_still_lives_here
I seem to have acquired a habit of tweeting a stream of consciousness thoughts when I least expect it. This is often how I determine whether or not I have enough for an article. Here's a glimpse at my process.
Everyone has heard the expression “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.' Well, I believe that TCHC should be more proactive than reactive in many ways - including looking toward a time when OCHE is no longer necessary. How could that happen?
May I suggest that TCHC start working together with other housing providers and government services to make on going pay direct mandatory for all people on OW, ODSP as well as people on OAS and CPP. By pay direct I mean that the money is transferred straight from a tenants income support to TCHC. This method completely bi-passes the tenant and goes straight into TCHC coffers.
This was originally an idea I planted in my Tenants Manifesto on The Final Report of The Mayors Task Force on TCHC with respect to tenants on OW and ODSP where I know for a fact that pay direct is currently an option.
Now I understand that OCHE's existence is because of concern over seniors being evicted and dying in our stairwells. Maybe more of a long term strategy would be coordinating efforts with other social housing providers across the province (or even the country) to ensure that pay direct is mandatory for seniors on pensions.
OCHE’s mandate [as described online] is quote “eviction prevention for senior and vulnerable tenants living in Toronto Community Housing (TCHC) who have arrears (unpaid rent). We also provide TCHC with recommendations when a senior or vulnerable tenant has lost their rental subsidy.” unquote
I'm suggesting that their mandate include advocating for systemic changes that prevents the possibility of arrears from occurring in the first place. Not only should they be advocating for ways to simplify the annual verification of income review forms, but, they should also be advocating for mandatory pay direct for every tenant on any type of financial assistance.
In the last paragraph on page 5 of the CEO's report it mentions “developing a tenant survey to identify the preferred engagement model” with respect to the tenant engagement system refresh. I spoke in a flurry of words at my “Show and Tell” presentation to the Board back in April about my recommendations if TCHC decided to proceed with a new tenant engagement model. I won't reiterate the complete list of ten items but I will highlight three to make clear my current reasoning for instating such guidelines.
The first item I wish to highlight is number 3) TCHC tenant reps [councils] should have monthly meetings with the tenants they supposedly represent. When the tenant rep for my building recently announced that she had applied for a $24,000 “Social Club” grant even our Community Services Coordinator looked a little stunned. As a tenant I believe strongly in the concept of financial transparency even if the very notion of it makes this board cringe. How can any tenant rep apply for money without first informing their community of the opportunity and the reason for that request?
Now we will jump ahead to number 7) TCHC staff need to be trained to support those of us who are actually willing to go above and beyond for our communities. Furthermore TCHC staff need to give credit where credit is due. Over this past weekend it was brought to key people's attention at TCHC that there are astounding similarities between the proposed changes to a No Smoking Policy for TCHC tenants as announced in the Toronto Star last Friday and an article I posted to my website last month! The Toronto Star article reads in part - “In the future new units will be smoke free” then it continued on to say that “Tenants with existing leases would have the option of signing a new lease that included a smoke-free clause.” That sounds remarkably similar to my statement - “It's never too late to include a no smoking clause in the lease of incoming tenants. It's never too late to ask current tenants to commit to keeping their units smoke free.” In such incidents when responding to previous oversights maybe the response should be thank you for your input. Not - “Thank you for your feedback.” It was my idea after all.
Finally, we will discuss suggestion number 9) TCHC should define in greater detail what it takes for a tenant rep to be removed from their position and replacement procedures. Both within their communities and at Board level. I understand that one of the new tenant board members was considering using her time on the TCHC Board of Directors as a stepping stone to a career in politics. Myself and several other enraged/”engaged” tenants can not comprehend how her tippy toes barely touch the lily pad as she leaps right over TCHC tenants concerns and her responsibilities to this Board into the political swampland.
Amanda, if you don't have the courage to represent TCHC tenants, then gives us the courtesy of vacating the seat so that we can find someone who WILL.
I am here today to tell you what is missing from the 2019-2022 Strategic Plan.
The first item on my list is accessibility. As I have outlined in an email to Cathy Birch that the goal of R-PATH should be to phase itself out of existence.
In my opinion, one of R-PATHs mandates should be to decrease, then eliminate, the need for funding at some point in the future because they have successfully advocated for accessibility features to be automatically built in to all future projects.
I believe that TCHC should be building all residential, recreational, commercial, and office spaces to the universally accessible design standards. (In 2016 Daniels Corporation was actually offering these design upgrades for free.)
I think that this would add a level of convenience to even able-bodied tenants. In the same manner that curb cuts have not only benefited those with accessibility issues but also parents pushing strollers and people pulling bundle buggies.
In addition, I believe a targeted approach to spending that 17.4 million dollar R-PATH budget would greatly improve accessibility across the portfolio.
The next item I believe needs to be mentioned is recycling. This is another area where I believe TCHC needs to be more proactive.
Once upon a time when I used to work as a security guard in condominiums across the city I noticed that recycling bins were located in ground floor garbage rooms. Tenants didn't have to walk outside to the far end of the parking lot to recycle.
An accessible option for recycling could be to install parallel chutes alongside garbage chutes for paper and plastic recyclable materials.
Otherwise, I think it would be a great idea to encourage some form of friendly competition between communities to see which community could reduce their ecological footprint the most. (With a plaque or trophy presented annually to the winning community.)
The final area that I believe needs to be improved is actually mentioned in TCHC's Strategic Plan for 2019-2022. But without the specifications that I know are mandatory if Toronto Community Housing does want as Goal #5 states - Tenants [to] feel safe in their communities. TCHC is justifiably concerned about this big threat of “violent incidents”. I firmly believe, however, that there are precursors to many of those events that could be better managed through an anti-bullying/anti-harassment policy. I understand through recent communications with TCHC staffers that there is an effort at the moment to develop a Vulnerable Tenant's Strategy. I'm going on the record now to state clearly that as this initiative moves forward a new Anti-Harassment Policy that applies to tenants and staff should be a key piece of this action plan.
I would go even further and argue that being successful at Goal #5 (with the Anti-Harassment Policy in place) can greatly impact TCHC's ability to achieve both Goal #6 - Tenancies are well managed with a focus on supporting vulnerable tenants to have successful tenancies and Goal #7 - Tenants are engaged in activities that influence their quality of life
Once again, from my perspective as a TCHC tenant, I believe that these initiatives need to be implemented as soon as possible. I would be happy to work with TCHC on any and all of the initiatives that I have discussed here today.
Thank you for your time.
Where to start? I'm just going to jump right in. The minute that the names of the two new tenant directors at TCHC were officially released I started doing some research. Nothing heavy. Everything was available online. I started with Amanda Coombs LinkedIn account.
The first thought that came to my mind when I saw her profile was 'if she is doing such great work in the community why does she only have 7 connections?' Yup, that's right … Just seven.
Come on now. I'm definitely not everyone's favourite person and I currently have 305 connections on LinkedIn.
K … Maybe the first impression isn't very impressive. So I began to research her qualifications beginning with her education. On her LinkedIn page it indicates that she has been working on her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from 2011 - 2018. That's seven years already.
The York University website states - "This program is well-suited for students wishing to complete a 3-year university degree and then begin a career or pursue a college diploma following graduation."
Then on her information page on TCHC's website it states that she is still attending York University for that very same degree.
How much longer is that going to take her? No judgements. Just a statement of fact that maybe she doesn't really have the time (or attributes) necessary to devote to the tasks that are mandatory for TCHC Board related matters.
I scanned the rest of her LinkedIn resume. Under Volunteer Experience she put Recreational Assistant at CAMH from August 2017 - August 2017. That's right. One month of volunteer experience. Honestly, I would be ashamed to put something that microscopic on my resume. I may have had naps longer than the total amount of time she has volunteered.
At this point I am searching in vain for an explanation as to why she would have been a preferred candidate for a tenant seat on the TCHC Board of Directors. Then I saw it.
She has eleven certifications! Sounds amazing. Looks amazing on her LinkedIn page. Until you realize that the majority of those certifications can be received for work completed in less time than it has taken me to research and write this article.
CPI Nonviolent Crisis Intervention
Two-Day Foundation Course
TRX FUNCTIONAL TRAINING COURSE
Conflict Resolution & Training
Maximum 6 days
Emergency First Aid CPR/AED Level C
no longer available but likely under the 5 hours required for CPR/AED Level C
Provisional MHFA Canada Youth Instructor
Engaging and Empowering. How to become an Effective Mentor for Vulnerable Youth
30 hours (3 hours a week for 10 weeks)
Crisis Intervention Training
Food Handler Training Certificate
Mental Health First Aid
Fitness Instructor Specialist
I have been sitting on this information since May 28th, 2018. I really wanted to give Amanda Coombs the benefit of the doubt. It is only a few months into her term and she is already on a leave of absence.
Oddly enough, I don't blame her.
I blame everyone that played a role in her appointment to the TCHC Board of Directors. I also blame TCHC for not having a satisfactory mechanism in place for tenants to elect appropriately qualified individuals to represent us in those two token seats. Finally, I blame the City of Toronto (as Toronto Community Housing's sole shareholder) for not doing its due diligence.
The above image was taken at the International Taste Buds event held this past weekend by and for the TCHC tenants at 2180/2190 Ellesmere Road Scarborough.
TCHC has become a city-centric organization which is a far cry from it's claim of being tenant-centric. There are twice as many city councillors as tenants on the board of directors. As if that alone isn't enough of an indication of the corporations actual direction the city chose the people to become part of their elite Tenants Last [I mean Tenants First] initiative. Then more recently the City of Toronto decided who the two new tenant board members would be.
So, why is this important? ... Well it has to do with Toronto Community Housing's Fire Life Safety Plan.
On TCHC's own website it claims they are wholly owned by the City of Toronto. So if that's the case why are TCHC buildings exempt from the no smoking policies that apply to all other government buildings?
Especially when it is taken into consideration with the fact that it has been raised at previous Board meetings that smoking is the second largest contributor to fires on TCHC properties.
It's never too late to include a no smoking clause in the lease of incoming tenants. It's never too late to ask current tenants to commit to keeping their units smoke free.
If TCHC were a truly tenant-centric organization they would have already identified the increased risks of fire associated with the tenant population which has a higher percentage of people with disabilities and seniors than market rent buildings elsewhere.
Also there definitely needs to be an assessment regarding the increased risks of fires with those that smoke while having oxygen tanks in their units and those with a propensity for hoarding. Both these conditions are at an increased risk as people age. This is a glaringly obvious issue that one could only hope the newly designated seniors division will be taking into consideration when determining what type of services they are offering the tenants in seniors buildings.
Then we need to keep in mind the fact that way too many fires happen as people flick their cigarette butts off their balconies and into dumpsters. Are those fires included in the stats? ... Or is it just those that occur inside TCHC buildings?
As it is, I currently have duct tape over both the vents in my unit (the one in my kitchen above the stove and the one in my bathroom above my toilet) Mind you that's not just to keep out smoke. It keeps out the creepy crawlies too.
Anyways, back to the issue at hand, if I could ever figure out how to pull off a class action lawsuit against TCHC my first attempt would be related to issues regarding exposure to second hand smoke.
If Toronto Community Housing Corporation is city-centric then their mandate is clearly governed by the city of Toronto's no smoking policy. If this is a tenant-centric organization then I encourage them to consult with tenants regarding the implementation of a no smoking policy.
It seems like a much more realistic and practical approach than having June designated as Fire Safety Awareness Month by TCHC and Toronto Fire Services. If, as CEO Kathy Milsom recently indicated, TCHC truly wanted to change the behaviours of tenants related to any fire life safety plan then maybe they should start with changing the rules. No more of this blowing smoke up everyone's ass.