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Toronto should build housing to fight homelessness, says U.S health expert

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Homes are the key to health and Toronto’s ultra tight vacancy rate means the city should focus on building new units in the fight to end chronic homelessness, according to a leading U.S. public health expert.

“Toronto has to figure out, under the circumstances of Toronto, what works,” said Dr. Mitchell Katz, head of New York City’s Health and Hospitals corporation and the former head of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. “But what is needed and was needed in LA and needed in San Francisco is the commitment that we do not find it acceptable to house people in shelters and on the street.”

Dr. Mitchell Katz, a leader in housing issues in L.A. and San Francisco, is seen in Toronto Tuesday, before taking part in a panel discussion with leading experts in housing and homelessness.
Dr. Mitchell Katz, a leader in housing issues in L.A. and San Francisco, is seen in Toronto Tuesday, before taking part in a panel discussion with leading experts in housing and homelessness.  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)

Katz met up with the Star on Tuesday morning, in the midst of a minor media blitz that concluded with a late afternoon speaking engagement on the subject of city-specific solutions to combat homelessness, as part of the annual Louis L. Odette lecture, hosted at St. Michael’s Hospital.

“The solution shouldn’t be simply to build more shelters. The solution should be to build more housing,” said Katz, who founded and led successful programs in San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively, that focused on getting people out of shelters, hospitals and nursing homes and into permanent housing — with the expectation that a home was the best way to improve individual health and reduce the burden on the health-care system.

“In Los Angeles, we were able to tap into more of the private rental market, which I understand is a challenge here in Toronto as it is in New York City,” Katz said. “It sounds like for Toronto, if we are going to be housing homeless people in Toronto there needs to be building of units, you are not going to get it off the private market.”

Katz said in Los Angeles they were able to use a flexible rent subsidy to get people into available units, and in San Francisco one solution to the problem was the city taking over the use of older hotels to create housing.

In Los Angeles, his work included successfully campaigning for constituents to agree to a property tax increase to be put toward housing programs; In San Francisco, he founded Housing for Health and pushed for the use of health service dollars to supplement rent to get chronically ill people into homes.

Those fights, he noted, also involved fighting to change the perception around who needs housing support and convincing the public that money was better spent on homes, rather than pushing marginalized people into crisis and the health-care system.

The Toronto speaking event included a panel discussion with local experts in housing and homelessness, including Mark Aston, the chief executive officer of the Fred Victor Centre, Dr. Stephen Hwang, director for the Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Mike’s, and Mary-Anne Bedard, director for service planning, development and infrastructure with the city’s shelter, support and housing administration division.

In an interview with the Star, Bedard said nobody considers shelters an acceptable long-term solution, but the reality is a range of options are needed to manage varying degrees of need. She is currently focused on the creation of 1,000 new emergency shelter beds by 2020, a target mandated by council last winter following a brutal cold snap. Two new emergency shelters are scheduled to open in November, with estimated room for 100 to 200 people, she said.

In 2017, about 19,000 people used roughly 5,000 beds across the city, she said. About 20 per cent of the people using the emergency shelter system were doing so for more than six months, she said, or would fall under the definition of chronically homeless.

“What we are trying to do is return the emergency system back to emergency system, instead of a de facto housing system,” Bedard said. The city’s Home for Good program, a partnership with the province, was designed with the goal of getting 2,000 people who fall into that group into housing over the next two years with the supports they need to keep it, she said.

In Toronto, one of the new solutions to an overflowing emergency system and the increasing need for low-barrier options is the use of at least three modular, tent-like structures that will temporarily house up to 400 people over the winter season. Katz said one question the city could be asking, or exploring, is why can’t that space be used instead for prefabricated, smaller housing units.

“If you have space for prefabricated tents then you have space for low-cost shipping container modular housing,” Katz said. “What is the barrier? Is the barrier money, is the barrier politics?”

Affordable housing has become one of the defining issues of the municipal election. Mayor John Tory and mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat have both pledged to boost affordable rental housing stock, promising to create 40,000 new units in 12 years and 100,000 over 10 years, respectively.

Emily Mathieu is a Toronto-based reporter covering affordable and precarious housing. Follow her on Twitter: @emathieustar

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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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