Sub­ur­ban shel­ter a band-aid solution

City ex­pects home­less to take sub­way and then trans­fer to a bus

Bayview Post - - News - JOHN SEWELL

It is some­what odd that city staff has de­cided to put a cen­tre for the home­less in the mid­dle of Don Mills.

The Civ­i­tan Ice Rink on Don Mills Road, just south of Lawrence, will be the lo­ca­tion of this tem­po­rary fa­cil­ity. It will close down in Septem­ber so hockey can con­tinue there. Some 120 cots will be placed on the ice pad, much like a small refugee camp.

Toronto has not been up to the chal­lenge of the se­vere de­mand for af­ford­able hous­ing for the home­less. Shel­ters pro­vide for al­most 5,000 home­less peo­ple ev­ery night, but they have been so crowded that staff have been told by the politi­cians to find more spaces for peo­ple to sleep in­doors.

A new fa­cil­ity was created this spring on Daven­port just south of Dupont in the midst of the An­nex, a site that was wel­comed by nearby neigh­bours Mar­garet At­wood and for­mer gover­nor gen­eral Adri­enne Clark­son, but that has now been shut­tered for the sum­mer to per­mit renovations. The shel­ter in the CNE’s Bet­ter Liv­ing Cen­tre is also closed for renos, hence the need for city staff to find other space.

Staff makes the odd ar­gu­ment that home­less peo­ple will be given tran­sit fare to take the sub­way to the Pape sta­tion, then take a bus to Don Mills, a good 45-minute trip from the down­town. It’s fair to say many of those who are home­less will de­cide in­stead to sleep rough in down­town parks and ravines dur­ing the sum­mer rather than take this jour­ney.

There are not a lot of home­less peo­ple in the Don Mills area right now, mostly be­cause the ser­vices they rely on — soup kitchens of­fer­ing free meals, hos­pi­tals, churches, pub­lic in­door spaces to hang out in such as Union Sta­tion, li­braries and so forth — don’t ex­ist in Don Mills.

But with the Civ­i­tan Ice Rink, city staff has iden­ti­fied a place for the home­less to sleep, thus sat­is­fy­ing Toronto City Coun­cil’s de­mand to find more spaces. I sus­pect the place is so out of the way it will be hardly used.

There are more than 100 shel­ters, adult drop-in cen­tres and Out of the Cold pro­grams of­fered in Toronto, but none of them are in or close to Don Mills. It is not that Don Mills has pre­vented shel­ters from lo­cat­ing there — the de­mand is sim­ply not there.

Peo­ple in Don Mills are as car­ing as peo­ple in the rest of the city, and I have no doubt that many res­i­dents will reach out to pro­vide vol­un­teer as­sis­tance to any home­less peo­ple who show up at the shel­ter this sum­mer.

Those who say that those Don Mills res­i­dents ques­tion­ing this staff de­ci­sion are ex­press­ing a “not in my back­yard” (NIMBY) re­ac­tion are wrong: crit­i­ciz­ing the de­ci­sion is fair com­ment about how a strange lo­ca­tion was cho­sen to meet a se­ri­ous so­cial need.

The larger is­sue is that the mayor and city coun­cil have done al­most noth­ing to ad­dress the need to per­ma­nently house the home­less. Shel­ters work for a few nights for some in­di­vid­u­als, but those who have lit­er­ally nowhere else to live need per­ma­nent places to call home. The home­less­ness is­sue has been with us for two decades; it is not a new is­sue. Coun­cil should be putting money and pro­ce­dures in place to en­sure that needed hous­ing hap­pens.

But in­stead, coun­cil has hoped the home­less­ness prob­lem will just fade away, hence the band-aid ap­proach of pro­vid­ing an­other shel­ter with cots. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment an­nounced a na­tional hous­ing strat­egy al­most a year ago, of­fer­ing great bun­dles of money for af­ford­able hous­ing, but city coun­cil has yet to start even draft­ing a strat­egy about how that money might be used in our city.

It would be ter­rific if putting this shel­ter in Don Mills man­aged to pro­pel the is­sue of home­less­ness into the cur­rent pro­vin­cial elec­tion cam­paign and into the city’s elec­tion cam­paign for Oc­to­ber. But that’s as much wish­ful think­ing as city hall staff ex­pect­ing the home­less to trek up to Don Mills to get a night’s sleep on an army cot in an ice rink.

If it weren’t touch­ing on such a dire so­cial is­sue, one would call this whole ini­tia­tive funny. Post City Mag­a­zines’ colum­nist John Sewell is a for­mer mayor of Toronto and the au­thor of a num­ber of ur­ban plan­ning books, in­clud­ing The Shape of the Sub­urbs.

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