Downtown homeless shelter shutting down

Five weeks after the city took extraordinary steps to free up more bed space for the homeless, the Salvation Army.

Five weeks after the city took extraordinary steps to free up more bed space for the homeless, the Salvation Army has announced its shutting down one of its downtown hostels.

The non-profit organization revealed last week that it will be closing its 124-bed Hope Shelter on April 15. The facility at McCaul and College has been operating for 40 years, and provides beds, meals, counselling, medical help and housing supports to men between 18 and 70 years of age.

Salvation Army spokesperson Andrew Burditt says that the agency had no choice but to shut down. Its cost of its lease was set to go up and maintenance needs at the aging two-storey building were mounting. The agency, which operates the shelter using city funding, couldnt afford to stay.

It was a decision that was kind of made for us, Burditt says. He believes the owner of the building, listed in the city registry as Memara Investments, intended to sell, but hes not sure what will become of the property.

According to Burditt, the Salvation Army and the city had been in discussions about the fate of the Hope Shelter for about two years, but couldnt find a way to keep it open. The agency and the citys shelter administration are now attempting to find accommodations for the men who have been staying there. Burditt says almost all of its 124 beds were occupied on a nightly basis.

Burditt says the wellbeing of their clients is the agency’s top priority and they will do their best to make sure “no one will be left out on the street” when the facility closes in April.

Patricia Anderson, a spokesperson for the shelter administration, says the department is offering housing allowances and housing support programs to help find the men permanent homes. The administration is also trying to make beds available within the shelter system for those who will be displaced.

In the longer term, the administration is working with the Salvation Army to find a location for a new shelter to replace Hope. The department also plans to add 127 permanent beds to the shelter system this year, pending councils approval of funding for the spaces in the 2015 city budget, which goes to a vote next month.

In January, shelter administration began renting out additional rooms for homeless families in motels, an emergency measure designed to free up more shelter space following the deaths of four street-involved men in the span of eight days in January.

The administration had hoped the plan would bring shelter occupancy rates closer to 90 per cent, the level at which the 4,475-bed system is effectively considered full. Despite being set by council nearly two years ago that target has yet to be reached, however, and Hopes closure will likely make it more difficult to achieve. According to city statistics, occupancy in the 1,743-bed mens sector was 95 per cent Thursday night.

The motel proposal was backed by Mayor John Tory, who called for the city to improve its homelessness response after the spate of deaths. Tory’s spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Councillor Joe Cressy, whose ward includes the Hope Shelter, calls its impending closure really unfortunate.

Cressy says hes spoken to shelter administration staff and hes confident theyre doing all they can to make up for the lost beds. But, he adds, Given the scale of the homelessness crisis in our city, we should be adding, not replacing shelter beds. | @BenSpurr

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