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Former youth detention centre to be used as homeless shelter

Last Updated Jan 10, 2018 at 12:02 am EDT

The minister responsible for Ontario’s poverty reduction strategy says the province is renovating a former youth detention centre for use as a shelter for Toronto’s homeless, however there is some confusion over how many beds will be made available.

City officials last week asked for help managing an increased demand for shelter services amid a bitter cold snap and the federal government offered the downtown Moss Park Armoury as a short-term solution. The armoury added 100 cots to those available in response to unprecedented demand for shelter due to extreme weather conditions.

The former detention centre is to be an extended solution once the Armoury shuts it’s doors. But according to Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam the new shelter will fall short, with only around 30 beds available — 70 fewer than at the Armoury. However in an email to CityNews, the city said the number was more than double that amount.

“Staff are currently finalizing occupancy numbers but preliminary estimates look promising for around 75 beds,” said Wynna Brown, spokesperson for the City of Toronto.

Ontario Housing Minister Peter Milczyn says provincial staff have identified the former York Detention Centre as the best, and only, provincial location that meets the city’s needs.

Milczyn says the provincial government will be asking Ottawa to extend the use of the Moss Park Armoury as a temporary respite centre until the former detention centre is operational.

Milczyn says substantial renovations, including to the building’s heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical systems, will need to be made in order for it be used.

He says the renovations are being expedited and it is expected that the site could be operational as a shelter space the week of Jan. 29.

“Given the urgency of the request, in recent days, we immediately began assessing the renovations and repairs that will need to be made to the site, which has not been used since 2009,” Milczyn said in a statement Tuesday.

The city’s specifications require a downtown location, with appropriate space and accessibility provisions, as well as bathroom and shower facilities.

The armoury was opened to the homeless last Saturday evening as the city faced a 13th day with an extreme cold weather alert in effect.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale had announced the previous day that the armoury could be opened as a temporary homeless shelter for two weeks.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement he’s grateful for the response from the federal and Ontario governments.

“I have asked for assurances that all efforts will be taken to ensure that this is a safe, comfortable, and dignified option for our most vulnerable citizens,” Tory said of the detention centre renovation plan.

An organizer for the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty last week called the opening of the armoury “a good step and an important victory for homeless people in this city.”

But Gaetan Heroux noted that while all winter respite programs end on April 15, “homelessness doesn’t end on April 15th.”

Tory said city staff are working to identify suitable locations across Toronto for permanent shelter sites.