By TOM GODFREY
Toronto Ombudsman Fiona Crean says her office is reaching out to new immigrants and people with disabilities who tend to file the most complaints against city services.
Crean in her annual report said complaints against city staff have spiked and the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), the TTC Wheel Trans and Municipal Licensing and Standards (MLS) are the top three agencies that angered residents.
There were 1,827 complaints filed in 2013, an increase of 28 per cent over 2012, Crean said in her 2013 Annual Report that was released last week at City Hall.
She said many complaints were filed by low-income residents, many who are newcomers to Canada, marginalized or live with disabilities and aren’t sure who to contact for help.
“The social inequality gap in this city is growing,” Crean told Share in an interview. “Recent immigrants are not on an even footing when they get here.”
Her office probed the case of Ms. H. who, with her children, was left homeless when their TCHC lease ended after they were told they were moving into another home. They learned on moving day their new home had failed a safety inspection and was being repaired.
“A significant amount of our complaints are from people with disabilities and recent immigrants who cannot obtain services,” Crean said. “We are targeting these communities with marketing information.”
She said complaints against city service have jumped nearly 30 per cent due to a lack of communication and information given to residents.
Her office helped Ms. Y., a TCHC resident with a disability, who has been trying for seven years to have her unit repaired after it was damaged in a flood. She had paid for some of the repairs and had not been reimbursed.
“Fully 70 per cent of the complaints involved poor communication by city staff and inadequate information being given to residents. This is an increase from 55 per cent in 2012, and 40 per cent in 2011,” the report said.
Crean said there has been a significant growth in the number of residents who have had problems with the city about the delivery of services.
“People are increasingly turning to programs such as subsidized child care, public housing and social assistance to ensure their well-being,” she said, adding the rise in complaints stems from an increase in poverty and exclusion that exists in the city.
Crean said she has never seen such an “increase in the level of anger and distress from the public”.
“Some of our complainants are frustrated with public services,” the report said. “Others are fed up with a local government that they see as failing to meet their expectations.”
The office also helped Ms. C, a senior with mobility issues who was unfairly being removed from Wheel-Trans services after officials watched video of her carrying two bags on a bus. The attempt to remove her from service was halted.
“In the past year, we have experienced more incidents of desperate behaviour than the previous four years combined,” she said. “This lack of civility makes the work of service delivery more challenging for everyone concerned.”
The report said most TCHC complaints were about delays in maintenance repairs, unsafe living conditions and the process for transferring units due to changes in family size.
Complaints against Wheel Trans included inaccessible and long wait times on the reservation phone line; appeal processes for both the eligibility and cancellation policies and poor customer service.
The top complaints about MLS remain inconsistent bylaw enforcement practices, poor communication, and unprofessional behaviour of enforcement staff.
The report said public servants conducted themselves with professionalism as they face pressure from budgets being flat-lined and 2,540 jobs left vacant.