Residents raise concerns about temporary respite centre coming to North York arena
It’s supposed to be temporary, but some residents are raising concerns about a respite centre scheduled to open in a North York arena later this month.
The Don Mills Civitan Arena was chosen by the City of Toronto earlier this year to be one of two temporary homeless shelters in an effort to address an ongoing shelter crisis.
The arena is located near Don Mills Road and Lawrence Avenue West and steps away from the Shops at Don Mills. It’s also surrounded by several multi-storey residential buildings.
“This is the WRONG location! Say NO to (a) 24-hour homeless shelter approved for Don Mills Civitan Arena,” a flyer circulating in the neighbourhood read.
“How did this get approved without our knowledge?”
Taylor Cameron drafted the flyer and said she is disappointed over the City of Toronto’s lack of consultation with residents concerning the shelter.
“The City didn’t feel that we were worthy of that kind of information. They didn’t feel that perhaps our safety could be at risk, or that we should be given information so that we can deem whatever precautions we feel for our own safety are required,” she said.
Yogi Acharya, organizer for the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, said he’s heard some of the ‘nay’ responses and called it “textbook NIMBYism”.
“People say things like, ‘Oh, we have a soft spot for the homeless, but we’d prefer them to be elsewhere,'” he said.
“There’s this implication … of this inherent criminality that groups of homeless people have and that’s both inaccurate but also frankly just a gross, selfish sentiment to actually put forward.”
Despite this, Acharya said he understands why some residents are hesitant to embrace the new respite centre in their neighbourhood because of the lack of infrastructure in the surrounding area.
“I would agree that those neighbourhoods don’t have the services that homeless people rely on,” he said.
“That said, you can’t support the closure of respite sites when you’re in the midst of a deadly shelter crisis.”
City officials said Toronto has seen an unprecedented demand for respite services over the last 18 months with an increase of 40 per cent in the number of people looking for shelter.
The Don Mills Civitan Arena will house 120 shelter beds and offer sufficient shower and washroom facilities along with professionally-run services for people in need, city staff said. There are also plans to provide transportation to the centre by offering TTC tokens to those in need. The respite centre will be open for approximately four months before it moves to a more permanent location.
Gord Tanner, director of homeless initiatives and prevention services with the City of Toronto, said while he appreciates the concerns of the residents in the area regarding safety, putting shelters in communities like the one in North York is nothing new.
“We’ve been taking new shelters and services like this into communities that haven’t in the past had homeless services, but we know that people that experience homelessness come from communities right across Toronto,” he said.
Not everyone in the neighbourhood share the concerns. Colin Bradford said he thinks the new shelter is a good idea.
“The more we can do for people who need the shelter, the better,” he said.
“This place is pretty secure already with security and I know when they do these types of shelters, they man it quite well … As a city, I think we need to step up a little bit more and help those people in need.”
Nina Baron, another nearby resident, agreed.
“I’m for it, absolutely, because [people] need a place to be sheltered. That’s what the community is all about, right? To help each other.”
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