“Why are police [forcing] people from the building after being told they need housing?,” asked Dredz, at the time a resident of the Novotel shelter, located beside Union Station downtown.
Dredz and over 25 other people, a mix of residents and advocates, were occupying the shelter’s lobby on November 29. “Don’t give us excuses, we’re here and we are stakeholders, our lives are at stake while you’re making a profit… we’re allowed to be angry because we’ve been neglected.”
The group was demanding an end to forced police evictions of residents.
In November, Novotel shelter staff told residents the shelter would close by December 31, and all residents must leave by December 6. Many residents were forced out before the December 6 deadline. Some were given no plan for where they would be placed. Others were placed in shelters in Scarborough or Jane and Finch, areas far from their communities, employment and support systems.
At the occupation, a list of demands was pasted on the Novotel, calling for individualized consultation for relocation plans, the right for residents to refuse evictions, an end to the two-bag limit (where residents were only allowed to bring two bags of belongings), and financial compensation for belongings that have been disposed of by staff.
Two minutes after the occupation began, two Toronto Police officers arrived, along with three private Star security, and two community staff members.
Residents and advocates demanded to speak to Lacey Kerr, who works as the Novotel’s site manager, and Patricia Mueller, the executive director of Homes First, the support service for housing sites that operates Novotel’s services. Kerr was present inside and didn’t answer residents’ and advocates’ questions, only stating they must leave.
The police presence grew. After 15 minutes of residents voicing their concerns, including sexual misconduct by staff, around seven advocates and residents were dragged out of the Novotel by police. The remainder exited the building peacefully. Later that night, around 1 am, Dredz was arrested. He was later released on bail and evicted from the shelter.
On December 6 the Novotel hotel-shelter officially closed, but as Voices from the Novotel posted on Twitter that day, “our fight continues.”
They mention other shelters and also encampments, where people are trying to stay alive this winter. “From Delta, to Bond, to 545 Lakeshore, to St. Stephen’s, to Allen Gardens our fight continues in every part of this city where unhoused folks live and exist while the City of Toronto imposes violence. We will resist.”
A longer version was originally published by The Hoser and is available at thehoser.ca.
This article appeared in the 2022 Dec/2023 Jan issue.