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NEWS: Shelter offers temporary respite (March 2018)

March 22nd, 2018 · No Comments

A tale of two residents’ associations

The City of Toronto opened a respite shelter at 348 Davenport Rd. in late January. The shelter will be open until April, when it city staff will decide on a permanent use for the site. BRIAN BURCHELL/GLEANER NEWS

By Geremy Bordonaro

The City of Toronto opened a winter respite drop-in shelter in late January in a commercial building that’s not far from the site of a proposed condominium development opposed by local residents like Margaret Atwood and Galen Weston.

Even though Atwood and other well-known residents of the neighbourhood like the Right Hon. Adrienne Clarkson spoke out in favour of the shelter, it was not without some controversy.

“Our general objection is that the Annex has more than its share of ‘social problem’ housing and it is time for the rest of the city to share the burden,” wrote the Davenport Triangle Residents’ Association (DATRA) in an open letter to Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina). “This seems to be a particular interest of yours, more than other councillors, so it all ends up in our back yard, strangely without objection from [the Annex Residents’ Association] or Annex residents.”

The city purchased the building after it went on sale late in 2017, but only announced its plans to open the shelter after the sale was finalized. According to the Toronto Central Healthline, the shelter — which can hold up to 80 people — will be open 24 hours until April 25, 2018, and offer winter respite for men and women over the age of 16. There are two other shelters in the neighbourhood.

“We have a history, in the Annex, of being an open, an inclusive, and a welcoming neighbourhood,” said Cressy. “Ours is a welcoming neighbourhood and it always has been. By virtue of the city’s acquisition of 348 Davenport we are able to ensure that the neighbourhood remains livable and welcoming.”

DATRA, whose initial letter led to a lot of commentary on social media, has since backtracked from its original statement.

“We have no further comment, as everything published so far is unfortunate (starting with comments by an unauthorized spokesman) and distorted by the press for the sake of their own sensationalism and to cause controversy. We are dealing with our concerns with the councillor’s office,” wrote Oliver Collins, DATRA’s secretary and treasurer, in a written statement to The Annex Gleaner.

“Unfortunately not everybody is as supportive,” Cressy said. “In explaining their opposition the Davenport Triangle Residents’ Association said that the Annex is overburdened with what they call ‘social problem housing’. I don’t believe that the people who live in our supportive, social housing and shelters are problems. I believe that they are people.”

DATRA’s opposition isn’t shared by the Annex Residents’ Association (ARA), whose boundary extends to Davenport Road, putting the shelter just on the edge of its catchment area.

“It’s very cold this winter and there are not enough places for people to find respite,” said David Harrison, ARA chair. “How can you argue with this? Some people should think before they speak.”

According to the city, there’s an urgent need to set up more homeless shelters and to find at least 1,000 new permanent beds.

“It’s necessary,” Harrison said. “It’s extraordinarily difficult for the city to find locations. As Cressy has said, they’re not going to go to the community to ask how they feel about it because no community is ever going to say that they want one.”

“In the city of Toronto we have an affordable housing crisis,” said Cressy. “Currently we have 181,000 people on the waiting list for housing. We have a shelter system that is over capacity. We do not have enough shelter spaces.”

Although the shelter is currently serving as a temporary shelter, city staff still have to decide how it will be used permanently.

“The decision of who it’s going to house — is it going to be families, refugees, women, children, or men? That will be determined over the next couple of months by our city staff based on a needs assessment,” Cressy said.

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