Residents speak out about temporary respite centre coming to Don Mills Arena

By Amanda Ferguson

Residents of a North York suburb are saying no to a temporary 24 hour respite centre expected to open later this month to help the city deal with its ongoing shelter crisis.

The flyer, which has been circulating around the area, is asking the people of Don Mills to contact city officials to say the neighbourhood is “the wrong location” for the shelter.

The Don Mills Civitan Arena, which is just steps away from the affluent Shops at Don Mills, was approved as one of two temporary respite centres earlier this year and is scheduled to open May 21.

The city says it plans to bus people to the respite centre for the first few days, to help them move their belongings. After that, they will be provided with tokens.

“How did this get approved without our knowledge?” the flyer reads.

“Is this the City’s solution to ship them to the Suburbs so they don’t have to deal with them during tourist season?”

The arena will house 120 cots and provide sufficient shower and washroom facilities for the city’s homeless, welcomes pets and will serve all genders. City officials said it will be open for approximately four months.

The area was chosen due to its access to public transit. The 25 Don Mills is accessible from both Pape Station on Line 2 and Don Mills Station on Line 4. It’s also a short walk from the 54 Lawrence East bus which connects to Eglinton Station on Line 1.

According to the city’s website, no hockey is played at the area over the summer and the respite centre won’t be interfering with any other type of community programming.

Ward 10 city councillor James Pasternak, who is also Chair of the Community Development and Recreation Committee, said he’s looking into the situation.

“I would not want to see the displacement of recreational facilities but if it’s not used for the summer but we shouldn’t have a problem,” he said.

“We’ve heard good and bad. Everybody in Don Mills is empathetic to the homeless,” says Doris Bies of Don Mills Residents Inc. “I don’t think anyone comes out and says we just don’t want them. I think what their concerns are, are what are they going to do during the day, and how many are coming?”

“It’s hard,” says one woman. “You think how it could effect the neighbourhood negatively but you have to help people too.”

Councillor Kristen Wong-Tam says while she shares the concerns of the area residents but the failure of the city to address the homelessness crisis has led to the present day decision.

“We are experiencing a record level of homelessness that we haven’t seen before in the city. What we are recognizing is that the shelters are absolutely full, and yet the need for shelter and housing for individuals is at an all-time high,” she said.

“In an ideal world, if we had done the job properly, if the mayor and city council had taken the issues around homelessness seriously, even back as far as three years ago, we would not be using arenas today.”

Wong-Tam adds the opening of the Don Mills respite centre will serve homeless people from the community who were coming into the downtown core to access similar services and support.

Wong-Tam says over the course of the next four months city staff are doing everything possible to identify new permanent facilities and to get them outfitted and retrofitted and ready so that people can be transferred there.

CORRECTION: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly stated a children’s program would be going on in the lobby of the area over the summer

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