The fort york armoury has been opened and as of last week is providing a large, well-situated space for homeless people to come in from the cold. But as the weather just keeps getting worse, questions remain about the initiative, however well-meaning.
Some in anti-poverty circles are wondering if cold, vulnerable people with mental health problems, looking for a place to lay their weary heads would choose to sleep next to armed soldiers on marching practice.
Says Bob Rose, program director at the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC), "There are some pretty bizarre contradictions in vulnerable homeless people trying to find rest when you have these soldiers marching around shouting."
"I've had plenty of hints from both folks staying there and shelter division that there have been some attitude problems" on the part of the soldiers, says Rose. "There are definitely tensions. I don't understand why (the soldiers) wouldn't vacate completely and go to Moss Park."
The soldiers are reservists with the 32nd Canadian Brigade. Tim Lourie, the brigade's public affairs officer, says of the anxieties some homeless people may be experiencing, "The facility is an armoury that's to train reservists for service in Afghanistan or Bosnia. They have to get their training somewhere."
Lourie notes that some of the training has been moved across the street to HMCS Fort York, the naval facility. "I think everyone is cooperating," Lourie says. "By this time, all commanding officers of the four units have had a chance to talk to the reservists about cooperation with the homeless and the shelter workers."
Rose says the city has done well to act so quickly to get the armoury opened. But he isn't ready to proclaim a new era of trust between homelessness activists and the city. Despite the shelter's flaws, the most pressing question is how long it will stay open.
Mayor David Miller has said that it is a short-term measure, and the city originally planned to keep it open for three weeks.
Other problems with the gender- and age-mixed space are the lack of showers or locker facilities, a dearth of bathroom stalls and urinals, and a need for services and supports like mental health counselling and primary health care.