City shuts respite spaces while shelters are full

City of Toronto is allowing respite spaces to be lost despite shelters being full and a directive from council to maintain respite capacity

[Public announcement at 1pm on Thursday, April 12, at south-east corner of Dundas & Sherbourne – the location of Margaret’s respite centre, which will lose at least half its capacity this Sunday. Speakers: Gaetan Heroux (OCAP), Maggie Helwig (Poverty Reduction Committee, Anglican Diocese), Maurice Adongo (Street Health), Greg Cook (Sanctuary), and two more to be confirmed.]

On April 15, the All Saints church respite site, officially considered to be part of Margaret’s, and located at Dundas and Sherbourne, will shut down. The impending closure will result in Margaret’s losing at least half of its 110 person capacity, forcing at least 55 people to relocate, but no one knows where to. The city has failed to release a plan for the relocation and has not secured a replacement site in the neighbourhood. In response to repeated email requests to reveal where the city expects people to go, management at Shelter, Support and Housing Administration would only say that current occupants of Margaret’s would be “offered alternative space within the shelter system or respite sites.”

People are in respite sites because they can’t get into overloaded shelters. The severe shortage of shelters was the precise reason why the operation of respite sites was extended to the end of the year. In this context, claiming that shelter space can now be magically found is dishonest, especially when every single shelter sector continues to remain full. If shelter space was that readily available, why wasn’t it offered before? As for respite sites, the only one with sufficient capacity is the Better Living Centre, half-way across the city. But even that site is facing closure, at-most a month later, with no plans publicly announced for where people staying there will go.

The intent behind the extension of the respite sites was to ensure that over 700 people staying in the eight winter respite sites and various volunteer-run overnight programs aren’t simply dumped back onto the streets come April 15, the date these sites were originally scheduled to close. City management committed to publicly communicating a clear plan that would ensure people would not be robbed of the bare-bones shelter from the elements the respite sites provide. No such plan has been released to-date.

The staggered closure of the volunteer-run Out of the Cold program has already resulted in the loss of 447 respite spaces, an average of 64 per night. By April 27, when the last Out of the Cold site shuts down, we will have lost 652 spaces, an average of nearly a 100 per night. The loss of at-least 55 spaces at Margaret’s will be an additional blow.

At the action on April 12, homeless advocates will be demanding that the city immediate pursue and open a replacement respite site in the downtown east and follow through on the addition of at least 1000 new shelter beds this year to deal with the deadly shelter crisis.

OCAP, (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty) 647-764-0488

—Gaetan Heroux

—Yogi Acharya