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NEWS: Youth centre moving to Spadina Avenue

March 9th, 2016 · No Comments

Businesses decry lack of consultation

By Annemarie Brissenden

Chinatown business owners are apprehensive about the Evergreen Centre for Street-Involved Youth’s relocation to the area, but community leaders are confident that any concerns can be addressed before it opens in September 2017.

Brent Mitchell, the mission program officer for the Yonge Street Mission (YSM), which operates the centre, explained that the move became necessary because “space limitations were impacting our capacity to serve the youth as well as we would like”.

“Consultation after purchase; it’s not consultation, it’s announcement”—Tonny Louie, past chair, Chinatown BIA

Currently on Yonge Street just south of College Street, Evergreen serves approximately 150 young people aged 18 to 24 daily, providing employment and full-spectrum health services, as well as personal counselling on employment, housing, and education.

Although the YSM has been a community fixture since 1896, Evergreen has grown out of its 10,000-square-foot space, which though converted into a youth-oriented service centre in the 1980s, was never built for that purpose.

The new space at 365 Spadina Ave., however, is 24,000 square feet, and will be custom designed to maximize the effectiveness of Evergreen’s programming, as well as enable partners to provide additional services, likely in the areas of education and mental health.

As soon as the YSM purchased the space, its representatives met with Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), whom to date has canvassed approximately 4,500 residents, met with dozens of community groups, and held two public meetings on the matter to address any local concerns about the move.

But many Chinatown business owners are upset that those consultations did not occur before the YSM bought the building, because at this point, the centre is an as of right development that does not require any rezoning or city approvals to operate.

For Tonny Louie, past chair of the Chinatown BIA, it’s odd that you can’t even put out a sandwich board without consulting other business owners in the area, but you can open a centre without any previous notice.

“We have a zoning bylaw that is not compatible with our current age; it has to be revised to be fair to all stakeholders,” he said.

Louie stressed that the YSM is “doing a good thing, no doubt about it”, and that he is not anti-poverty, but that the organization has failed at communication.

“There’s no sensitivity, no consideration for the neighbourhood or the culture,” he said. The attitude is that it’s a “done deal, as of right…. Consultation after purchase; it’s not consultation, it’s announcement.”

Former councillor and Grange Community Association honorary president Ceta Ramkhalawansingh said she was a little surprised and taken aback by the reaction of the Chinatown BIA.

“Taller buildings and developments are far more egregious than providing services to kids who are already here.”

“It’s not a question of bringing people here, it is a question of providing services for people who are already here,” agreed Maggie Helwig, who’s on the board of Friends of Kensington Market and is also the rector of Bellevue Avenue’s Church of Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields. “The YSM has a really good, impressive range of services for street-involved youth. This move will only be helpful to the community.”

But Louie — noting that many people in the community are afraid to speak out because it’s a highly sensitive issue — disagrees.

“They don’t live here,” he said. “You won’t find a lot of 18 to 24 year old [street-involved youth] on Spadina Avenue.”

Therein may lie one of the primary disconnects between the different parties. Some appear to view that stretch of Spadina Avenue and Chinatown as part of a larger community that includes Alexandra Park, the Grange, and Kensington Market, while Louie is speaking from a perspective in which Chinatown is a distinct neighbourhood in and of itself.

And both perspectives have merit.

“We have seen a movement westward in the city of the gathering spaces of street-involved youth in and around Kensington Market, and at Queen and Bathurst [streets],” said Cressy.

While Mitchell admits the driving decision behind the relocation to Spadina Avenue was the concentration of youth in the area, Superintendent Frank Bergen, Unit Commander of the Toronto Police Service’s 14 Division, “can’t necessarily agree that a concentration of youth is in [Chinatown specifically]”.

“Be honest,” asked Louie, “would you like your business to be next door?”

One of his major concerns is the potential for loitering.

“Walk by [Evergreen] at Yonge and Gerrard [streets], and you’ll see 10 to 15 people hanging around all the time, smoking, and teasing the girls walking by,” said Louie.

There’s already a bylaw to address that, responded Bergen.

“We’re not going to condone gaggles of people outside smoking.”

Mitchell also suggested that some people may be misinterpreting what they are seeing.

“The dynamics of the buildings around us at Yonge Street create a false sense that has little to do with us,” he said, adding “we will do as good a job as possible” to combat any loitering.

One approach is through the design of the building itself. They are creating an entrance that is welcoming, comfortable, and, most importantly, transparent, because “youth will loiter to see if it is safe to go in”.

“It will be a complete facility with a rooftop patio and smoking area,” said Marc Garner, the executive director of the Downtown Yonge BIA, who is consulting on the design of the new building and has spoken at community meetings about the relationship Evergreen has with its current neighbours.

“The community should not be fearful.”

Ramkhalawansingh believes that the community “will find that once [it] gets up and running, this will actually be a non-issue”.

Until then everyone is prepared to keep talking. “My role is to work with all different stakeholders to identify areas of concern, so we can address them,” said Cressy.

Bergen agreed. “Whatever concerns there are, I’m comforted knowing that everyone is talking, so we can set up for success.”

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