The past two years have been witness to several large-scale critical incidents at 650 Parliament, 200, 240, 260, and 280 Wellesley St. E., with thousands of St. James Town residents being temporarily displaced from their housing. Emergency intervention for one another in collaboration with St. James Town Service Providers’ Network (SJTSPN) agencies, the Red Cross, Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the City of Toronto, and all levels of government was required. Collectively, these incidents caught the attention of residents across Toronto and became the subject of high-profile media coverage.
These incidents brought into focus some of the larger systemic challenges facing St. James Town relative to other city neighbourhoods:
- high density population,
- highest concentration of immigrants (54.2%),
- a median household income more than $20,000 below the municipal median;
- higher rates of hospitalization for mental health conditions (915.4 per 100,000 vs. 722 per 100,000) and overall hospitalizations (85.1 per 1000 to 72.1),and
- highest low urgency emergency department visits amongst youth ages 5-19 (138.5 per 1000 to 106.1).
On July 17, 2019, Members’ Motion 9.26 was presented to Mayor John Tory and Toronto City Council by Councillor Wong-Tam on behalf of the St. James Town community (seconded by Councillor Mike Layton), to designate St. James Town as a Neighbourhood Improvement (NIA) as part of Toronto Stronger Neighbourhoods Strategy 2020 (TSNS) with 857 signatures and 18 letters of support from Executive Directors and CEOs of SJTSPN agencies. The motion passed unanimously (23-0).
Next steps include a review by the Economic and Community Development Subcommittee of the TSNS, final report in the fourth quarter of 2020 and a re-evaluation of North St. James Town’s status for inclusion in the next round of the TSNS. The St. James Town community is encouraged to attend future deputations and voice their support for this matter. In preparation for this process, former Member of Parliament and City Councillor Olivia Chow, a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University and head of the Institute for Change Leaders, will be offering training on storytelling, public narrative, and delivering deputations in September, in partnership with the SJTSPN.
In 2014, the City of Toronto identified 31 neighbourhoods (out of a possible 140) as Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (NIAs) under the Toronto Strong Neighbourhood Strategy 2020 (TSNS2020). This designation is based on five primary indicators of well-being: Economic Opportunities; Social Development; Participation in Decision-Making; Healthy Lives; and Physical Surroundings. Each NIA was assigned a Community Development Officer (CDO), given placement at Neighbourhood Planning Tables with Resident Advisory Committees, and afforded access to Neighbourhood Grants Program and Partnership Opportunities Legacy Fund, ranging from $1000 to $350,000 for resident-led activities and infrastructure projects. North St. James Town (Neighbourhood 74) received a score of 47.55 out of 100, just five percent above the Equity Benchmark of 42.89 needed to be designated an NIA. The neighbourhood boundary at Jarvis St., as opposed to Sherbourne, may have been a factor in influencing the demographic information included in the score.
At the St. James Town Spring Gathering in May, a petition was launched with supporting documentation produced by the SJTSPN, asking Toronto City Council to re-evaluate North St. James Town for inclusion as an NIA in the next round of the TSNS after 2020’s report is complete. The first two signatories were Toronto Centre NDP MPP Suze Morrison and TDSB Trustee Chris Moise joined by all 200 Spring Gathering attendees. Numbered copies of the petition were distributed to SJTSPN agencies and an online version was created and disseminated. The petition report summarized the NIA process and the case for including North St. James Town, supported by Public Health data and findings from the St. James Town Case for Collective Impact. An accessible infographic was also designed. The Corner’s Outreach Team diligently canvassed the local neighbourhood and informed residents about the benefits of being designated an NIA. On the eve of the submission of petitions to Ward 13 City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s office the CBC Toronto made the efforts of the St. James Town community one of their top stories both online and on the 6:00 PM news.