Metro Morning

Joe Cressy decries 'heartbreaking' opposition to new Annex shelter

The city will open a new permanent shelter in the Annex later this year, Coun. Joe Cressy said Thursday, despite mixed reaction from community residents.

Facility at 348 Davenport Rd. to open as respite centre this weekend, permanently later in 2018

Coun. Joe Cressy unveiled plans for a new shelter set to open later this year in the Annex, explaining the city has an 'urgent' need to increase spaces. (Grant Linton/CBC)

The city will open a new permanent shelter in the Annex later this year, Coun. Joe Cressy said Thursday, despite mixed reaction from community residents.

Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) unveiled plans for the facility at 348 Davenport Rd., near Dupont Street and Avenue Road, Thursday alongside Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson, the former governor general,  and Annex residents who support the project.

The city purchased the building a few months ago, Cressy said, with the intention of relieving the shelter bed crunch that's been exacerbated by a string of cold snaps.

While the building needs some renovations and will open permanently later this year, it will open this weekend for a short-term stint as a respite facility until mid-April, Cressy told CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

"We know that we have an urgent situation right now," Cressy said.

The city needs more than 1,000 permanent shelter beds, he said, and this new facility will have 90 beds.

"We as a city need to get our act together to open another 12 to 15 of these," he said.

City staff have yet to decide whether the permanent facility will serve families, women or refugees, for whom all shelters are at capacity, Cressy said.

'It all ends up in our backyard'

The city is forging ahead with the plan with the support of one community association and opposition from another.

A statement to Cressy from the Davenport Triangle Residents Association making the rounds on Twitter expressed disappointment that the community was not consulted about the shelter.

"Our general objection is that The Annex has more than its share of 'social problem' housing and it is time for the rest of the city to share the burden," the statement said.

"This seems to be a particular interest of yours, more than other councillors, so it all ends up in our backyard, strangely without objection from ARA or Annex residents."

On Thursday, Cressy called the comments "heartbreaking" because "people are not problems."

He noted that his father ran a group home, and used to tell him that people like shelters "and they like them more the further they are away from them."

"I want to be clear on the issue of shelters, that communities do not have a right to say no to shelters. If they did, we would have no shelters," Cressy said at a news conference Thursday. "Communities have a responsibility to work with their neighbours and the cities to welcome shelters and to make them work for everybody."

Clarkson, who served as governor general from 1999 to 2005, said Toronto needs developments in neighbourhoods which serve everyone.

"We all have different stakes in our neighbourhoods and we should realize that everybody is a citizen in our city and that we need to help those who are the most vulnerable," she said.

"This is a wonderful statement of what a neighbourhood can be and I think that what the Annex needs always is housing for everybody, housing for people who are in need, housing for people who like to live downtown and I think it's one of the things that is the best possible solutions to one of the things we're all concerned about — having enough space for people who would otherwise have to be out on the street."

Another resident, Dr. Tomislav Svoboda, said some of the people he is fondest of are those who have suffered a lot, people who have had mental illness, and people who have had addictions.

"I understand the concern and the fear that some people might have; fear of the unknown, that sort of thing. But I have to say that the wealth of a community is its diversity," Svoboda said.

"I definitely wouldn't want to live in a community that's just one socio-economic strata where everybody is of a certain income [or] certain education. I think wealth really comes through diversity."

'The responsibility of everyone'

While the facility has received mixed reaction, Mayor John Tory promised "it will be part of the community."

"I have made it clear that I believe we need more places in our city to help our homeless find shelter — this is the right thing to do," Tory said in a statement. 

"Working to ensure these locations are located seamlessly in communities, and are part of their communities, is a collective effort which requires the cooperation and the sensitivity of every single Torontonian just as it is the responsibility of everyone to fight homelessness."

This facility will be the fourth shelter he has opened in his ward, Cressy said. Some have been met with warm community support, while others have not.

But ultimately, building shelters "does not require consultation, nor should it," he said. "If we required community consent to open shelters, we would have no shelters."

Members of the Annex Residents Association were on hand for the announcement in a show of support for the shelter.

Albert Koehl, vice president of the Annex Residents Association, said in a statement they support the new shelter because "many people in our community don't have a safe place to spend the night."

Communities 'ought' to be mixed

Earlier this month, the city revealed that shelters were at 95 per cent capacity, with hundreds more people using winter respite stations. With a number of days-long cold snaps and extreme cold weather alerts already this winter, activists have been pressuring the city to develop more permanent resources for the city's homeless population.

In December, the Better Living Centre was opened as an emergency respite centre, as was the Moss Park Armoury two weeks ago. This week, anti-poverty activists marched on city hall demanding that 1,500 more shelter beds be created.

On Tuesday, the city approved increasing the Shelter Support and Housing Administration's budget by $21.8 million in 2018. This is slated to go toward opening more permanent shelters and the funding is set to step up in the coming three years as the city works toward a goal of opening 1,000 new spaces. 

In the meantime, Cressy said the city's capital budget contains funds to purchase buildings and develop new shelter facilities. The problem is finding real estate that isn't being bought up by developers for condos.

"We need housing," Cressy said.

"But unless we as a city proactively also purchase and build shelters, not only will there not be space, but our communities will not become inclusive and mixed communities, which they ought to be."