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Residents living near Toronto shelters upset at lack of city consultation

Click to play video 'Residents near Toronto shelters upset with lack of city consultation' Residents near Toronto shelters upset with lack of city consultation
WATCH ABOVE: Residents living by temporary homeless shelters in different parts of the city are voicing the same concerns. They say they don’t feel safe and are questioning why the city never consulted with them about setting up the temporary sites. Miranda Anthistle has the details.

A resident at a downtown Toronto condominium says she’s scared to leave her own home, pointing to a number of problems resulting from a temporary homeless shelter set up adjacent to her building.

“The concierge was attacked with an axe a couple of weeks ago, I personally now choose not to walk on York Street at all,” says Claire, who did not give her last name and who has lived at 33 University Ave. for nearly two decades.

She and a number of other residents have voiced concerns to their property manager about the Strathcona Hotel becoming a temporary shelter.

They say problems range from finding dirty needles on the property to shelter residents urinating on the flower beds and some allegedly accosting those who live in the condo building.

Read more: ‘Basically warehouses:’ shelters in midtown Toronto unsupported, advocates say

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“I was so scared because you just don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Elizabeth Flavelle, who describes being verbally attacked by a shelter resident when passing by the hotel in her walker.

Strathcona shelter resident Michael Andrew Smith says he hopes the community understands the need for temporary accommodation.

“We hope COVID-19 passes so we can get back to our own lives… but at least there’s a roof over our heads, at least we’re not sleeping outside or in a tent,” Smith said.

“I believe this is a good place.”

Police, however, have seen an increase in calls at the location. The Strathcona became a temporary shelter back on April 10. Police say that between February of this year to the end of April they responded to four calls at the Strathcona Hotel, while from May to June there were 70.

Click to play video 'Midtown Toronto shelter controversy has councillor looking to province for aid' Midtown Toronto shelter controversy has councillor looking to province for aid
Midtown Toronto shelter controversy has councillor looking to province for aid

The Strathcona is one of more than 30 new shelter sites the city has opened since mid-March.

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It says these aren’t to increase shelter capacity, but rather to help create physical distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic. That, however, has also been an issue according to those who live and work in the building.

“A lot of them don’t have masks on and they’re huddled in groups. If there was to be an outbreak, it would spread everywhere,” says employee James Mosley.

There have been similar issues cropping up in Scarborough at the Delta Hotel at Kennedy Road and Highway 401, which is another temporary shelter location. Residents in both areas say they were never consulted or informed by the city of the decision to put a shelter in their neighbourhoods.

“I’m annoyed, I pay good money to live here. … No, it’s not right,” says resident Marilyn Mayers, who adds she doesn’t feel comfortable letting her teenage daughter walk around in the area by herself anymore.

Click to play video 'Some Midtown Toronto neighbours upset with increased incidents of crime, blame nearby shelters' Some Midtown Toronto neighbours upset with increased incidents of crime, blame nearby shelters
Some Midtown Toronto neighbours upset with increased incidents of crime, blame nearby shelters

The city says there was no public consultation before because it wasn’t a decision to be made by the public. However, Mary-Anne Bédard, the city’s general manager of Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, says going forward it wants to engage with the community.

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“We’ve had to open about 30 new locations in six months. That sort of rapid expansion has made it difficult to consult prior to opening programs with communities, but we are undertaking that work now and look forward to working with the community and local councillors to address peoples’ concerns.”

Read more: Toronto protesters face off over city’s strategy on homelessness

Meanwhile, Smith says the Strathcona shelter has provided him with safety and security.

Area residents say it’s not that they don’t have compassion for the people experiencing homelessness, rather they think there’s a lack of mental health resources being dedicated to this segment of the population.

In a letter to Mayor John Tory and the city, the property management at 33 University Ave. say in part: “Perhaps it is time to consider a permanent solution for them (shelter residents). One where they can reside in an area that will not threaten the health of others, while hopefully receiving the mental health care they appear to badly require.”

On Wednesday night, residents in Coun. Jim Karygiannis’s ward, which is where the Delta Hotel is located, had a chance to voice their concerns about the temporary shelter at a town hall meeting that was held virtually.