Hamilton

Hamilton teaming with Wesley Urban Ministries to try to save its day centre

The city is teaming up with Wesley Urban Ministries to try to save a day centre that serves people who are homeless or in precarious housing.

The city will look at sharing costs, and eventually a joint location with an overdose prevention site

"We need that space," says Joe Speagle, who's used the Wesley Day Centre when he was homeless and getting clean. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The city is teaming up with Wesley Urban Ministries to try to save a day centre that serves people who are homeless or in precarious housing.

City council's emergency and community services committee voted Thursday to develop a cost-sharing agreement to help pay for the centre between now and March 31, when the centre's lease with the current space at 195 Ferguson Ave. N. expires. It also hopes to start a joint service next year that includes a supervised drug injection and consumption site.

The city will also go to a future board meeting of the day centre's landlord, a separate agency called Wesley Community Homes, to find out why the day centre is being booted from its location.

"I want to go to a publicly funded board and get the answers from this landlord who's evicting a perfectly good service," said Jason Farr, Ward 2 councillor. 

The day centre, he said, "is a nerve centre. At the very least, I want to look the board in the face … and say 'why don't you think this is a good location?'"

Wesley Urban Ministries says it's been forced out of its space at 195 Ferguson Ave. N. (Google)

The day centre offers several services, including a health clinic, social interaction, warm meals, harm reduction groups and housing support. For more than 20 years, Wesley Urban Ministries has leased space from Wesley Community Homes. Now the latter says it wants the first and second floors to build more affordable housing.

Day centre supporters have been pleading with the city for help this year. The day centre is short money, the agency says, and is now short a place to exist. Without new space after March, it will have to close its doors.

Joe Speagle hopes that doesn't happen. For years, he worked in management. Then mental health and addiction issues took hold, and he's been homeless on an off over the years.

He's now 20 months clean, he said. He's in supportive housing through the Wayside House of Hamilton and does public speaking with various agencies. That includes Keeping Six, an organization supporting people who use drugs.

"I’m speaking from down here," Joe Speagle told councillors. "And I’ve been up there. I’ve seen that picture too." (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

For many people addicted to drugs, Speagle said, there's a tiny window of time when they're ready to get help, and help has to be there. The day centre provides that. The city is in the midst of an opioid crisis, he said, so it's needed more than ever. 

The day centre "gives us a place to meet," he told councillors. "It gives us a place to organize, so we can give our brothers and sisters a place to come and be part of society again."

CBC News is attempting to get a statement from Wesley Community Homes, but the board said last month that it hopes to build 10 to 12 affordable units in the space. 

The board said Wesley Urban Ministries used to occupy space on both floors, but vacated the second floor in 2001. It was "purpose-built space" that Wesley Community Homes now can't rent out, the statement said. 

City staff will update councillors in November on the status of the cost-sharing agreement, and the search for a permanent location. The city is already looking for space for its consumption and treatment services site. 

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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