North York temporary respite site closed early
The city has announced new shelters for this coming winter by Jessica Wei
When the Don Mills Civitan Arena was reopened as a temporary summer respite centre for the homeless this past May, concerns swirled around the local community. Many welcomed the opening of new respite centres but were skeptical that having a site located so far from the downtown core would make an impact on the estimated 16,000 individuals in the city’s emergency shelter system. Their concerns proved true: the shelter closed a week ahead of its scheduled vacancy deadline.
“It closed early simply because there weren’t that many people using it. It was always going to be a temporary service,” said Patricia Anderson, who works with City of Toronto, Shelter, Support & Housing Administration. According to Anderson, the capacity was 120 people. “I don’t think we ever had more than 85 people at that site,” she added. According to Anderson, the location was chosen because the land was already part of city-owned property, and there were no existing summer programs that would be interrupted. Amidst the criticism that the respite centre would be too far from downtown, she insisted that the site was still well used.
“It’s on a major transportation line,” she said. “We know that homelessness is not simply a downtown issue.”
Homeless advocates are wary of solutions that require homeless people to be far from downtown.
“There wasn’t really much in the way of programming or social supports being offered from those sites or other services that are typically offered at a shelter,” said Yogi Acharya, an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP).
In September, the City of Toronto announced that it had secured three new temporary respite structures, which will be operational this winter. The structures are modular, with insulated walls and full plumbing, with dining and common areas. Each structure can accommodate 100 people. Two locations have been announced, both located downtown.
Acharya still believes that the city is not doing enough to combat the issue of homelessness in Toronto.
“We are in the midst of a deadly crisis of homelessness,” he said. He said that the greater goal of the city should be finding suitable social housing, as well as growing with the pace of the increasing homeless population.
According to the City of Toronto’s Daily Shelter Census, the general shelter occupancy rate was at 92 per cent as of Sept. 20.
“We are in the midst of a deadly crisis of homelessness.”