Today there was an article in the Toronto Star about a plan to turn the space in the Richmond Street club district that used to house the Fez Batik club into a homeless shelter. I’m struggling with where to begin – I can’t believe such a stupid idea has gone so far.
The area general area – a few blocks around Richmond and John Streets – has been in decline the past few years, but is still the heart of the Toronto’s night life. I don’t tend to hang around there too often – the places tend to attract a younger, more suburban crowd – but it is the centre for a lot of out of towners and tourists.
Is plunking a homeless shelter in the middle of it really such a bright idea?
First off, a lot of people who need those kinds of services have substance abuse problems. The proposed shelter would be in the midst of dozens of bars – bars that are also notorious havens for drug dealers. Does anyone else see why that would be a not be a good plan – encouraging people with drug and alcohol problems in the one area of town where it’s easiest to get drugs and alcohol? All that’s missing is a late-night beer store or LCBO.
Secondly, homeless types and drunk suburbanites are a terrible mix. I know because I see the interaction between the two groups all the time where I live. I see the kids harrassing the homeless and the pan-handlers on Queen Street West regularly. People who are already down and out don’t need to be kicked down further, which is what drunken, sheltered, spoiled suburbanites love to do for entertainment as they head back to where dad’s beamer is parked.
Then there is the venue itself. I used to have a room-mate who worked at Fez Batik for a few years. The rent on that place then was something in the range of $30,000 per month. That was the rent alone – not the costs for staff, utilities or anything else. The plan for the shelter would provide for just forty beds. That means that just the rent alone would cost $750 per month per person. Isn’t that rather expensive? Surely there is cheaper real estate than that available.
There are already shelters in much better locations. One, I believe, recently closed – it was on Queen West and had few surrounding businesses. I don’t have a problem with shelters in general, but there are neighbourhoods in which it would be bad to put one for all kinds of reasons; where a few blocks away would be fine. There’s one near where I live – at College and McCaul. I pass by it regularly and see the people standing around outside with their coffees and cigarettes. They mind their own business. It’s close to public transport and roads, and a handful of houses, but I’ve never heard of any problems. There’s certainly enough vacancies in Toronto that a similar location could be found.
Of course, the real solution would be for social services and the accompanying costs be covered by the provinces again rather than the cities. And to put the welfare rates back up to where people can at least afford rent and food. I’ll go deeper into my reasoning for that in a future blog.
For now, I’ll just be emailing my counciller before the meeting on Wednesday.