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Toronto's newly planned respite centre faces opposition as city faces desperate need for shelters

Over 100 gathered on Wednesday to oppose plan to open centre on Adelaide Street
Oct. 19, 2023

With cold weather around the corner and homelessness on the rise, the city of Toronto says it faces a desperate need for shelter space -- but one respite centre has some residents of a neighbourhood concerned.

Some who live near Adelaide Street West near Tecumseth Street say they are upset about the city's plans to open a 24-hour respite centre in the area. The respite centre, expected to open early next year, will have 60 beds and the capacity to expand to 80 beds. It will be run by St. Felix Centre, a non-profit organization, with support from the city.

City shelters now serve over 10,700 people each night and are still turning away hundreds every day.

Coun. Ausma Malik, who represents Spadina-Fort York, says the city has an obligation to help unhoused people.

"The city of Toronto has a fundamental duty to house residents safely. We must act now, especially as winter approaches, to improve housing stability," she said in a statement on her website.

"I unreservedly support providing shelter for our unhoused neighbours. Patrons of these facilities are our fellow Torontonians: they deserve respect and the opportunity to be welcomed to the community as they work towards long-term housing."

But some are concerned about the centre being located less than 100 metres away from St. Mary Catholic School, an elementary school. They say the neighbourhood already has many social services within blocks of the site and are concerned about the potential impact it will have on the safety of the surrounding area.

More than 100 residents gathered outside the building at 629 Adelaide St. W. on Wednesday to show their opposition to the plan.

Jennifer Hilsden, a resident who helped to create a Facebook page for residents to discuss the issue, is among those concerned.

She said residents are concerned, among other things, about the possibility of discarded needles, altercations on the sidewalk and more garbage.

Hilsden said residents want the city to pay attention to their concerns.

"There's been no engagement from the city on this," she said. "We're looking to be heard and we're looking to find a solution that is a safe solution for the children and the residents in this very small residential pocket of Toronto."
The school is already 200 metres from a supervised consumption services site at the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre, she said.

"It's not a proper location to have it in this cul-de-sac. It's a very secluded, low lit area. The proposed building does not have outdoor space," she said.

Nick Andrews, who lives across from the site, said he thinks the respite centre will alter the character of the neighbourhood.

Andrews said he thinks the city didn't look at the neighbourhood before it decided on the location.

"I just think that's unfair to present to all the little children, little children who are the most vulnerable people in our society, are going to be exposed to this a preschool age," he said. "We've worked hard to make this a good community. This is a safe area, a safe street, this is a place for families."

"What I am afraid of is that our peaceful walk -- this beautiful boulevard, with these trees and the pollinator garden, people walking their dogs -- all of that is going to change overnight," said Andrews, adding he's been a resident of the area for some 25 years.

Residents told CBC Toronto they were not consulted about the respite centre before the city made the decision about its location. They said the protest on Wednesday was the their third gathering to voice their concerns.

Malik said the city is planning a public forum with residents next month and will distribute flyers to the community, including digital ones, as soon as possible.

The site is a relocation of an original program run by St. Felix Centre at 25 Augusta Ave., which is being converted to long-term housing, she added.

"I remain steadfast in my commitment to hearing from the community and working closely with City staff and St. Felix to ensure the operations at 629 Adelaide St. W. are successful. We must meet our goals of housing people and ensuring a safe and collaborative environment with local neighbours," she said.

On its website, the city says it has hired a community engagement facilitator, Barnes Management Group, to manage community engagement for the site. It said it also will hold a virtual information session and establish a community liaison committee to hear concerns.