Residents concerned over location of new respite site in West Queen West

There are plans to relocate a 24-hour respite center on Adelaide Street, but neighbours say the city has not been transparent. Faiza Amin reports on the residents who say their concerns are going ignored.

By Faiza Amin and Meredith Bond

A group of residents are speaking out over concerns about the location of a new 24-hour respite centre in the West Queen West neighbourhood, just a few hundred feet from a supervised injection site.

The site at 629 Adelaide Street West is the new home of the former respite centre at 25 Augusta Avenue. It will open with 60 spaces at the beginning of 2024 and will be run by the St. Felix Centre which services to marginalized communities who are experiencing homelessness.

Residents have started a Facebook group to draw attention to their apprehensions about the proximity of two elementary schools and the possibility of significant public safety issues in the area.

The centre is 110 metres from St. Mary’s Catholic Elementary School and 350 metres from Niagara Street Public School.

Shirley Rocha is a nearby resident with two children, a 16-year-old and a five-year-old, who has lived in the area for decades. Rocha said they have seen changes to the area since the supervised injection site was opened at Queen and Bathurst Streets and is concerned about the impact of the respite centre.

“I don’t feel like it’s going to be safe to be able to go for a walk or spend some time outside after school,” said Rocha.

“It takes away a little bit of everybody’s freedom, safeness, it just doesn’t sit well. It doesn’t feel right. It’s a community with so many vulnerable people such as kids and elderly … We just don’t know what it’s going to look like.”

Rocha said she only found out about the respite centre from another parent nearby. They have been holding public meetings, including one that was attended by over 200 people.

“Us as residents and moms and concerned people in the neighbourhood. We have to advocate for ourselves because if we don’t who’s going to.”

Kathryn Dickson, another parent and resident, was angry they weren’t made aware of the site’s location by their elected officials or the city.

“What we’re looking at is a situation where our school and the children’s safety are going to be compromised, being wedged right between an injection site and a 24-hour barrier respite site,” said Dickson.

The City of Toronto said the site is being relocated because the Augusta location is being converted into new affordable housing and will provide much-needed low-barrier overnight emergency accommodation.

“The need for additional shelter and respite space is urgent. Demand is currently far greater than the current system can accommodate,” a city spokesperson said in a statement.

“We understand that the community will have questions, and St. Felix and the city are committed to engaging neighbours to help support the successful integration of this program into the community.”

A Community Liaison Committee will be created, which will provide a forum where representatives from the local residents can meet regularly with St. Felix representatives to share information, ask questions, and work together to problem-solve concerns.

Dickson said she’s worried about what’s happened in Liberty Village where a 24-hour respite site is operating.

“The residents there have been victims of theft, vandalism, and harassment. They’ve had drug paraphernalia left all over their parks. The children can’t use the parks there anymore.”

The group has been in contact with Spadina-Fort York councillor Ausma Malik but adds they want to see more action from her.

“We want her to directly communicate to us what is happening here. We want her to come to us. Show your face stand right here and tell us why this is a good idea,” said Dickson.

Malik tells CityNews the finalizing of the agreement is still in progress and because of this, the collection of feedback and concerns from residents is ongoing.

“I am taking community concerns extremely seriously and I have consistently communicated that I’m committed to working with neighbours, with city staff who will operate it, to create a reliable forum for those concerns to be addressed on-site and in the area to ensure the neighbourhood is as livable and safe as possible,” said Malik.

Rocha believes they could use the space for a better purpose that doesn’t harm the neighbourhood.

“We understand that there is a homelessness issue. So let’s get something there, perhaps for refugees. Let’s get something there for the youth, a community centre, maybe a women’s and children’s shelter,” explained Rocha.

“Something that could benefit the community. Not destroy it. Not have all of these things that our children are going to be exposed to right at our doorsteps.”

Rocha tells CityNews there is another resident meeting being held on Tuesday. The city confirmed officials will be holding a virtual town hall next month.

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