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Club-goers, residents and business owners in the entertainment district were stunned this week to learn of a City Hall proposal to relocate a homeless shelter, set to close at 110 Edward St., to the corner of Peter and Richmond Streets, former home of the club Fez Batik.
If approved, the centre’s new location will offer 24-hour assessment and referral services and will have a 40-bed capacity.
While Ward 20 Coun. Adam Vaughan told The Toronto Star that business and resident associations have generally been supportive of the idea, others scratched their heads in disbelief.
At an event to announce an upcoming Toronto version of Montreal’s Just For Laughs comedy festival Wednesday, Mayor David Miller also expressed his support for the idea during an interview with Metro.
“People of all backgrounds have to live in all neighbourhoods,” Miller said. “There are a lot of homeless people downtown and the best way to ensure they have the treatment and support they need to get off the street is to have the facilities located where they live … and that’s where a lot of people live.”
I worked in the nightlife industry in that neighbourhood for four years, lived just on its borders on Stephanie Street for three, and I understand the homeless situation in the area.
The mayor is correct that regardless of their economic backgrounds, people should be able to live and receive shelter where they choose.
I now live a block east of Yonge and Shuter, an area where there are also a great number of homeless people living in the shadow of high-priced condos.
But would City Hall consider planting a shelter in the heart of the Eaton Centre, one of the Toronto’s prime tourist draws, just around the corner?
At a time when the city’s tourism numbers are in decline, City Hall IS considering installing a shelter in the centre of a district which attracts tourists!
I personally detest the Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) attitude espoused by so many living in urban areas. I have a soup kitchen one block east of my residence and it has no effect on my life or the value of my condo. In fact, I’m a wholehearted supporter of mixed-income residential neighbourhoods as a means of sound and sustainable urban development.
But putting a shelter-which will undoubtedly service people with addiction problems — in the middle of an area where alcohol and drugs are available in no short supply?
“Exactly, and that’s why you need to have a shelter there to get people off the street,” Miller added when asked about the choice of that particular corner. “If you speak to club owners they’ll say there’s a panhandler here, but most panhandlers are homeless, not all, but if you want them to stop panhandling they need a place to live. That’s why you need a shelter where they are.”
But the placement of this shelter is likely about more than simply finding beds for the homeless.
When asked whether he supports the notion of having a district packed with clubs and bars, the mayor answered:
“We’re actually having really serious problems with it at the moment from a public safety point of view late at night. I’m no stranger to the entertainment district myself as a former rugby player and I’ve had a lot of fun down there, but there are some serious safety issues happening so we need to keep a real eye on it and we are.”
In politician’s speak, that likely means action is being taken to alter the current situation.
The shelter issue will be decided at City Hall on Wednesday, but regardless of the outcome of that meeting, change is almost certainly on the horizon for the entertainment district.