A safe haven for some of the city’s most vulnerable…has gone up in smoke.
Just last Spring, Maggie’s Toronto, the nation’s oldest sex worker justice organization, moved in and renovated a downtown space on the second and third floors of the Church of the Holy Trinity campus near Yonge and Dundas. Here, sex workers could access wrap-around supports and services. But late last Friday night, that all burned to the ground.
“We put a lot of work, time and energy into getting this office up and running and making it something that the community wanted and worked for them,” said Michael Burtch, HIV and harm reduction co-manager at Maggie’s. “This is a devastating setback for us.”
The fire broke out in a back alley on the northeast side of the church. The blaze, spreading quickly to the nearly 200-year-old structure, smashing windows and travelling up a stairwell three floors. The Maggie’s space was hardest hit.
“We’re talking about damage to the infrastructure of the buildings, water damage, major repairs to our electrical system and a lot of our program supplies, office furniture and items– just completely gone,” said Elle Ade Kur, the organization’s executive director.
The damage, pegged at $500k is so extensive, Ade Kur says, that Maggie’s has had to temporarily close its doors. And with it’s absence, comes the removal of vital services such as public health education, street outreach, harm reduction and legal supports and advocacy, during a time when violence against sex workers is high.
“As sex workers who can’t necessarily get those resources from other organizations who actively discriminate against us, this was the place where people would come,” said Ade Kur. “And the fact that that’s gone now means that a lifesaving resource is completely wiped out.”
While staff say say they’re taking a moment to process the loss, they’re also looking towards rebuilding. With insurance only covering about a fifth of the damages, Ade Kur says–a GoFundMe page has been set up to recoup the losses.
“We’re trying to reschedule programming, find new places to run our programs out of,” said Burtch. “We want to continue to provide as much as we can for the community who needs us.”