Opinion

LIVING WITH THE HOMELESS

Posh rug showroom is now a homeless shelter

The Davenport Triangle where we live is under attack. Several proposed developments will change this unique neighbourhood forever. Just when we thought we were making some headway, a homeless shelter was dumped in our backyard.

The developments in the Triangle range from a towering 27-storey living jungle proposed by Cityzen, to a modest five-storey office infill planned by Ken Zuckerman’s Zinc Group. In between is Freed with a completely out of scale 10-storey glass fronted condo and Brisbin with an eight-storey condo on a tiny sliver of land. Now, in the old rug warehouse on Davenport, stuck down between Freed’s and Brisbin’s condos-to-be, is the temporary respite shelter, designed to get homeless people out of the cold. It’s been a particularly horrible winter with days and days of sub-zero weather, so no one wants these disadvantaged folk freezing on the street. To deny them a place out of the cold would be heartless.

The noisy honey waggon arrives every morning

For many years, I have been a volunteer with the Out of the Cold charity, cooking meals for a few dozen homeless people in a church basement. It’s not much: supper, sleep on a pallet with a clean blanket, a hot shower, fresh towels and shampoo and a good breakfast, before heading out with a packed lunch and a bus ticket to search for the next night’s refuge. There’s also a bin of donated winter socks to keep their feet warm. It makes a difference and they tell us over and over how much they appreciate the food and the shower. There’s seldom any fuss and no security has ever been necessary.

The shelter on Davenport is another matter. Up to 88 people (all men, I believe) are housed in dormitory conditions. The shelter is far from where the actual homeless congregate, so they are regularly dropped off at the back door by taxi. There are not enough toilets, so porta-pottys have been temporarily set up. Every morning the honey waggon comes and noisily pumps them out. Unfortunately, not everyone can wait for a turn indoors, so we have the unfortunate evidence in the lane come morning. Yellow snow is the best of it. Since there is no outdoors to the facility, the ‘clients’ congregate on the street in front. Mostly, they are polite and step aside when we walk past, but several neighbours have expressed fear about walking from the bus stop to their front door at night. Disused coffee cups and mountains of cigarette butts litter the gutter.

Garbage piles up in non-rodent proof bags

Then there is the garbage. Eighty eight people create a lot, so every morning a huge pile of garbage bags was piled up outside the back door. Now the City has for years refused to pick up our household garbage from the lane, yet they happily pick up from their facility. Not often enough, however, and the bags are an open invitation to pests. After a few complaints, the shelter installed two huge boxes where the garbage resides. Whether the boxes are rodent-proof remains to be seen.

In the first few days there were some fights, and the police were called, so now private security patrols day and night. The tiny security lady is chatty and tells me she doesn’t expect any trouble from the big guys. As she fixes me with a steely glare, I believe her.

By mid-April, the respite centres across the city will close and the homeless will be back on the street. This shelter will undergo a period of renovation and repurposing, before being re-opened later in the year as a refuge with one of several possible outcomes. A women’s shelter, a refugee centre or a place for homeless families have all been mentioned.

The most galling fact in all this is that there was absolutely no community consultation. Local councillor Joe Cressy has proclaimed loudly in his frequent newsletters that he is all in favour of community consultation and he has been vocal in supporting residents from the worst elements of development. Mind you, when the developers turn over thousands of dollars to his community fund, little seems to be spent in our neighbourhood and in the end nothing much gets done to change the developments. Sure, there’s a small set-back here or a promise of a new tree there, but in the great scheme of things these are very small victories.

The lane blocked by delivery trucks

That’s why a group of neighbours founded the Davenport Triangle Residents’ Association, Inc. With us all speaking with one voice and representing the many, the assumption went, there was some hope of changing the worst plans of developers. Fundraising to pay consultants and lawyers took place and we thought we were set for a few victories. That glow of hope didn’t last long. In the first battle the Triangle representatives went head to head with the developer and lost. Rather than focussing on the big issue, height (a 10-storey building when all around existing buildings are three stories) the developer side-tracked the representatives with diversions around set-backs, balcony treatments, privacy and garbage pick-up. In their wisdom, they also went to fight without legal counsel. They lost, so an utterly out of scale condo will rise in our backyard.

Next up was a five-storey office building proposed for a tiny parking lot in the middle of the block with no access to the street. More tenacious representatives fought that battle and the project was turned down at the Committee of Adjustment hearings. The developer went straight to the Ontario Municipal Board, where rather than face an expensive legal fight, the group negotiated a few concessions, small and inconsequential, but at least some neighbours were happy.

More fights are anticipated, but recently three of the Board have resigned, this writer included. We’ve played into the developers’ hands, by being stubborn and not finding agreement and compromises in our own ranks. Divide and conquer, indeed.

So, with the Triangle under stress from developments in this tiny block and without any notice or consultation, Councillor Joe Cressy has effectively put another nail in our community’s coffin with his shelter. Where is the democratic process in all of this? Where is the right to agree or disagree? Where is his much vaunted community consultation? This is a disastrous example of civic duplicity. Cressy trumpeted the announcement as “good news. It’s not another development.” Hardly good news for us.

The homeless get a taxi ride from downtown

We have tried to speak out against his disastrous shelter, without success.

Some of us have been pilloried by the press and characterized as “gold-plated, straight from central casting villains” opposed to the unfortunate homeless people who are now being housed in this shelter less than 50 feet from our back door. We have been vilified for what we have said. Who are we, us villains? We’re not privileged people, who have inherited wealth.

We’re regular folk who bought homes in what we thought was a stable neighbourhood. We pay high taxes on our property and deserve to be represented by someone who has our interests at heart, not who favours the interests non-voting, non-taxpaying people.

In another communication, our Councillor has had the gall to state: “For those who say ‘not in my backyard,’ find another backyard.” Is he really asking us to move away from our hard-won homes? And he also pointed out, after announcing the plan, there’s a reason communities do not have a veto on shelters: if they did, “we would have no shelters.” Thank you Councillor Obvious. Any one with a modicum of common sense could see that this would increase problems in the neighbourhood.

I won’t list further the litany of complaints from homeowners and business people, except to point out that one visiting policeman said: “Increase your security and make sure you have floodlights in the lane at night.” Ours are turned on from dusk to dawn. Yesterday, we activated a costly new alarm system.

Shall I ask the City for a rebate on my taxes?

Social scientists have shown again and again that warehousing the homeless in shelters does not work. If they worked, we would need fewer shelters, not more. One reason we now have so many homeless in our City, is they can’t afford the soaring rents charged by opportunistic landlords. City politicians have not protected the once plentiful rooming houses, that used to line the downtown streets, from consolidation and development.

Last week there was a community open house to discuss the shelter. Rather than a formal meeting where people might have had an opportunity to express their views, it was an informal scrum where representatives of City departments did their best to explain the rationale behind the move. Cressy was surrounded at all times with a crowd of angry people complaining. A few of them were incandescent. My complaints seemed mild by comparison.

In the next municipal elections, our ward will be split and Councillor Joe Cressy will undoubtedly choose to run in the more interesting and wealthier downtown core, leaving his successor to clean up the mess.

Well, we are stuck with it now, and I doubt that further complaints will make any difference to the outcomes. We have to try and cooperate with the City and make the best of it in the future. Better, we have to work to solve the root problems of these transient people.

Call me old fashioned, but I still believe dumping a homeless shelter into this established neighbourhood is a disgrace.

Categories: Opinion

4 replies »

  1. It would make a good investigative journalism story on how the selection of the property and purchase was made. My antennae says there was something wrong with the process and possibly illegal. How could the spending of $6/7M for a homeless centre go unnoticed in City proceedings. People at the City knew what was going on. You cannot purchase a property and close usually in less than 3 months.

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    • Thanks for your comment. The city claim that under their rules no comment is allowed while a purchase is under consideration, hence their need to keep quiet about the shelter until it was a done deal. Sounds like bureaucratic BS to me, but that’s the answer we’re stuck with.

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  2. There are many places in commercial areas where homeless shelters can be built or current ones expanded without impacting the character of residential communities and the lives of their residents. In these cases, everyone is a winner. But when tax dollars are spent to help some while harming others, it does not seem right. And let’s be clear — many homeless people suffer from addiction and mental illness, which makes it difficult for them to be “good” and caring neighbours.

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    • Excellent points. And after the City spent $7+ million of our hard earned money its hard to view this issue rationally. If we’re upset, the developers of the multi-million dollar condos must be incandescent.

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