What's next for the residents of the Broadview Hotel?

Few of the 40 residents living in the Broadview Hotel above Jilly's know what will happen to them next.

Leslieville neighbourhood is 'pushing out' people who live at historic hotel

The Broadview Hotel at Queen and Broadview has been there since the 1890s. Jilly's which occupies the bottom floor, has been operating there for decades. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Few of the 40 residents living in the Broadview Hotel above Jilly's know what will happen to them next.

Jilly's, long the most notorious tenant of the historic hotel, has been given 60 days to vacate the premises.

CBC Radio has learned that Streetcar Developments, the new owner of the iconic building at the corner of Queen St. E. and Broadview, has not imposed the same time frame on the tenants of the hotel.

The Broadview Hotel, more flophouse than hotel, has long provided a roof over the heads of people living just one step away from homelessness.

The current residents include a couple of single parents with young children, but most of the residents are single men, many of whom stay at the hotel for anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.

Charles Doucette is one of them. He lives on the top floor of the once grand Victorian building.

The soaring ceiling and still-majestic dimensions of his room dwarf Charles's few belongings — including a bed with a sheet that looks as though it hasn't been washed in the two years since

Doucette moved in, an ancient office chair with cracked upholstery and his flatscreen TV — his "pride and joy", Doucette tells me — used mostly for playing Minecraft.

Doucette says his mother kicked him out of their home in Sault Ste. Marie when he was 17.

Doucette moved to Toronto and for several years, lived in one shelter after another. Doucette eventually ended up at the Broadview Hotel, where a portion of his Ontario disability payments are automatically deducted for rent.

Doucette tells me he doesn't want to explain the nature of his disability although he is quick to tell me he's never done drugs and isn't an alcoholic.

Life at the Broadview isn't easy.

"My room is OK," Doucette says resignedly, as he surveys the space. Bedbugs are a problem for all the residents. A can of bedbug spray beside Doucette's bed is testament to his own losing battle. Beside the bed is a makeshift desk, a small fridge and a microwave oven. A couple of pizza crusts beside the microwave and scattered over the desk suggest Doucette's priorities lie with his computer rather than meals or hygiene.

This weekend's "theatrical love-letter to Toronto's East End" also includes a stop in the soon-to-be defunct Jilly's strip club at Queen and Broadview. (David Donnelly/CBC)

His other priority is a cat named Silence. "Because she isn't silent," explains Doucette. His cat occupies the room's best corner — under the room's massive arched window where Doucette has set out food and water bowls on a towel, along with a box of kitty litter.

There's no sink and a trip to the shared bathroom up the hallway explains some of the difficulties with cleanliness. In the dim light of the sole remaining light bulb, you can make out the broken tile floor. Doucette tells me only one of the three shower stalls is still functioning, and he shares it with eight other residents.

As poor as conditions are at the hotel, some people say its loss will be felt by the most vulnerable people in the area.

St. John the Compassionate, a mission of the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese, serves as a de facto social agency and community centre for the revolving cast of tenants at the Broadview.

The mission also works with the almost equally down and out people who frequent the New Edwin Hotel, just a block east. It is operated by Woodgreen Community Services as a hotel for homeless people.

Andrew Ignatieff, a retired development worker who volunteers at St. John the Compassionate, says the daily meals at the mission are often the only meal many people in the area get.

He says the Leslieville neighbourhood is "pushing out" the people who come to the mission for conversation, social support, and counselling along with the meals. Rising real estate prices have seen many former rooming houses east of Yonge Street selling for upwards of half-a-million dollars and renovated into single-family homes. It follows the same gentrification pattern seen 20 years earlier in Parkdale, says Ignatieff, and more recently in Regent Park.

Ignatieff is offended by the chorus of approval that met the news that the Broadview Hotel is about to receive its own make-over.

"What has to happen at each of these moments," he says, "is understanding the consequences for the people in the neighbourhood." For the people who come to the mission, he says, "this is their neighbourhood."

Charles's few belongings, including his most-prized possession, a flat-screen TV and a computer he assembled himself, are dwarfed by the spacious dimensions of the room he occupies on the 4th floor. (Mary Wiens/CBC)

Dr. Susan Woolhouse, of the South Riverdale Community Health Centre, echoes Ignatieff's concerns.

For the past seven years, she's worked with homeless people through the centre's outreach clinic.

Many of her patients over those years lived at the Broadview Hotel. When Woolhouse first started working in the area, she saw many more homeless or "street-involved" people hanging around the corner of Queen and Broadview than she does now. There are no records to show where they've gone, but she says it seems they're migrating out of the neighbourhood further downtown as renovation pressures eliminate places like the Red Door shelter and the Broadview Hotel in the city's east end.

“Living at the Broadview sucks," says Woolhouse. "Not a place you'd want anyone to live."

But she says, at least it offered shelter and the hotel manager, Mel Osolky, would sometimes refer tenants to her for treatment.

Both Andrew Ignatieff and Dr. Susan Woolhouse, say the sale of the Broadview Hotel highlights the need for a national affordable housing strategy.

"We are one of the only developed countries," says Woolhouse, "without a national housing strategy. People are being forced to live in places like the Broadview Hotel."

And yet she's impressed that even in a place as run down as the Broadview Hotel, there was a sense of community.

"I saw it when people died," says Woolhouse. "When you're living on the margins and someone close to you dies, it's terrifying. It's a reality check." Her patients told her things like, “It could happen to me -- who's going to come to my funeral?"

The developer is meeting on Friday with the City of Toronto’s Streets to Homes program and WoodGreen Community Services to begin discussions about relocating the 40 or so people living at the Broadview Hotel.

About the Author

Mary Wiens

Journalist/ Producer | Metro Morning

Mary Wiens is a veteran broadcaster and a regular on Metro Morning. Her wide-ranging beat includes stories that are sometimes tragic, often funny, occasionally profound and always human. Work that is often honoured with RTDNA awards (The Association of Electronic Journalists). One of her favourite places - Yonge Street. "It's the heart and soul of Toronto," says Wiens. "Toronto's Main Street!"