Hamilton

Wesley Day Centre community hub forced to close

The Wesley Day Centre — a community hub for people experiencing homelessness and precarious housing that has been running in Hamilton for over 20 years — is closing its doors this summer.

Landlord is not renewing the lease, Wesley says

Wesley Urban Ministries says it is being forced to close the Wesley Day Centre at 195 Ferguson Ave N. The last day of operation is Aug. 23, 2019. (Google)

The Wesley Day Centre — a community hub for people experiencing homelessness and precarious housing that has been running in Hamilton for over 20 years — is closing its doors this summer.

Daljit Garry, the executive director of Wesley Urban Ministries, says the program at 195 Ferguson Ave. N.  is being forced to close because the landlord won't renew the organization's lease.

"My biggest concern is — who is going to serve this population?" Garry said. "We've heard this population say directly to us that everybody gave up on them, and we didn't. We stayed there."

Their landlord is actually Wesley Community Homes, which is a separate social housing organization with its own board of directors that was once part of the same entity as Wesley Urban Ministries, but split off, years ago.

Garry said she doesn't know what exactly led to Wesley Community Homes not renewing the lease, but it appears to be tied to her organization's push to create a supervised injection site at the day centre last year.

"It was dead in the water," she said.

In a statement, the board of Wesley Community Homes said that Wesley Urban Ministries used to occupy space on the first and second floor of the building — the first floor was home to the day centre, while the second floor was "purpose built" for administration and employment services.

In 2011, Wesley vacated that second floor space, which left community homes with a space that "could not be rented out," according to the statement.

"In consultation with the city of Hamilton, Wesley Community Homes board of directors felt that the best way forward was to redevelop all the space originally designed to accommodate Wesley Urban Minisitries into new affordable housing units."

About 10 to 12 new units are to be developed in the space, the board said. Its statement did not address the issues raised by Urban Ministries' push for a supervised injection site at the building.

Daljit Garry is the executive director of Wesley Urban Ministries. (Adam Carter/CBC)

The history between the two entities is complicated.

In the 90s, Wesley Urban Ministries and Wesley Community homes were one entity, but split once the day centre came to exist, as community homes were required by the province to have their own boards.

Then, in 2014, the city stepped in to appoint an "operational adviser" for Wesley Community Homes as there were issues of oversight and failing infrastructure.

That operational adviser is the Good Shepherd Centre, yet another social non-profit organization.

Garry said Wesley Urban Ministries was notified that its lease wouldn't be renewed right around the time it was told that it could not apply to have a supervised injection site at the day centre.

"It was the most logical place to have this," she said.

That's because the day centre includes a meal program, life skills teaching, and was an ideal place to point people in need toward harm reduction and addictions services, Garry said.

In the end, a supervised injection site was approved for the Hamilton Urban Core Community Health Centre

Wesley says 585 people a year use the day centre, many of them on a daily or weekly basis.

In many cases, they are among Hamilton's most vulnerable, Garry said.

Wesley says zoning issues and expense are making it impossible to simply reopen the day centre in another location.

Instead, Wesley is transitioning the current meal program to CityHousing Hamilton's Vanier Towers at 181 Jackson Street West and 95 Hess Street South.

The program will only be available to people who live in those buildings, and not to the general public. The program's last day of operation at 195 Ferguson Ave. N is Aug. 23, 2019.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

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Adam Carter

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Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.