Wesley Day Centre clients plead for the city's help to keep it open
The city says it's already cash strapped, and a lot of good agencies ask for money too
Carrie Guerreiro knows firsthand about the need for the Wesley Day Centre. She drops by there often to hang out, or get a hot meal, or meet with a counsellor.
She's sleeping in a tent in a downtown parking lot right now, but she's getting into school and looking for a job. The day centre is key for that.
"I use it to get ready in the morning," she said. "I use it to eat breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner. I do my laundry there. I have friends that I talk to. I go to groups there. I go to the doctors there."
Without it, she said, "I wouldn't be as … prepared for the day."
Guerreiro was one of about 40 people who came out to Hamilton city council chambers Thursday to urge councillors to save the day centre.
The centre is due to close Aug. 23 because of a disagreement between Wesley Urban Ministries and its landlord, a separate agency called Wesley Community Homes.
Wesley Urban Ministries rents space for the day centre, and wanted additional space on the second floor for an overdose prevention site. Wesley Community Homes said it wasn't interested, and also that it wouldn't be extending the lease at 195 Ferguson Ave. N.
Dr. Jill Wiwcharuk, a doctor at the Shelter Health Network, does shifts at the day centre. She wants the city to intervene with money and/or space, especially since the city already wants to operate an overdose prevention site of its own.
The city is in the midst of an opioid epidemic, she said. This isn't the time to close the centre.
"Pretending that the same needs can somehow be met at various existing locations in the city is naive," she said. "The most vulnerable people in our community will once again be swept aside."
As of right now, the city says it can't help. Paul Johnson, general manager of emergency and community services, said it would require raising taxes or cutting other services.
Both would be tough given recent cuts by the Doug Ford government, which will likely mean a tax increase next year.
The services Wesley offers are provided elsewhere, Johnson said. The day centre is just unique because it offers them all under one roof.
A lot of agencies do good work ask the city for money, he said. But "we have a finite budget."
Even if councillors wanted to help, they couldn't have Thursday. City council's emergency and community services committee lost quorum an hour into the meeting, so it legally couldn't make any decisions. The issue could come back later.
For Guerreiro, having services all under one roof is a big deal. Otherwise, she could be on the bus for hours a day.
If the centre closes, she said, "I would be greatly disappointed."