All Saints’ Faces Redevelopment of Its Neighbourhood
All Saints’ Church is located in a rapidly changing hub of downtown Toronto. The City of Toronto has made this district a focus of several studies about how to shape growth in the area around Sherbourne and Dundas Streets. City Council has created a Downtown East Revitalization Strategy to coordinate several approaches its planning department is making to organize policies for the area that are aimed a preserving the distinctive heritage of the area and meeting community needs.
The City seeks to balance its guiding principles of preserving the existing character of the neighbourhood, including its social diversity, but also what it calls “leveraging community assets into local economic development opportunities.”
Central to these concerns of city officials is the revitalization of George Street, just two blocks west of All Saints’. There stands Seaton House, one of the City’s oldest and largest overnight shelters. One of the main objectives for the area’ revitalization is improving community safety and the perception of safety in the physical environment, which will in turn enhance the livability of the area. The hope is therefore that a transformation of Seaton House would lead to the renewal and physical of the entire street and area.
The present structure was built in the 1950’s and at times has housed as many as 900 men. City councilor Kristyn Wong-Tam has said, “I’ve heard it described as hostile.” She explained that the existing building was “never meant to house men with addiction and mental health issues,” with many of Seaton House’s residents cramped into poorly ventilated dormitories. Seaton House has long been a topic of contention in her ward because of the conflict between the interests of those interested in the gentrification of the area and the hostel’s residents.
Homeowner Glen Simourd, a member of the North George Street Working Group, says Seaton House makes the area “the worst street…the worst block in the city of Toronto.” He dislikes George Street between Filmore’s strip club at Dundas and the Seaton House shelter for its overt drug dealing, abandoned houses, street-fighting between residents, and frequent ambulances, He welcomes change, saying that, instead of beds for transients, “we as homeowners would have loved to see a lovely condo building going up there,” he added.
Instead, the City has begun negotiations with Infrastructure Ontario for a procurement process for a $562 million project of the redevelopment of Seaton House through a public-private partnership. $475 million of the cost of this renewal is currently unfunded, yet the City has authorized its shelter staff to set in place a transition plan regardless of whether the project is fully funded. The objective is to have the facility vacated by the end of 2018. The redevelopment also includes the revitalization of five abandoned heritage properties to the south of Seaton House.
The hope is to replace the current Seaton House with a 100-bed men’s shelter, a 378-bed long-term home, and 130 units of assisted living, together with 21 affordable housing units with supports. These distinct programs would be “integrated in a comprehensively designed project” around a ‘community service hub’. Unlike the present facility, the focus of the new centre would be long-term housing, with a relatively small portion of the present number of residents requiring temporary shelter.
The redevelopment also includes the revitalization of five abandoned heritage properties to the south of Seaton House, and the heritage Schoolhouse Shelter operated currently by Dixon Hall Settlement House. According to the George Street Revitalization Project breathing new life into these old houses is believed to be a key way to “de-institutionalize the street.”
City staff now are looking for four new shelter sites throughout Metro that are required to house current Seaton House residents because of its redevelopment. It is not yet known where the new properties will be located, meaning that the impact of potential displacement remains uncertain. The city has not indicated where those shelter spaces will be found. A staff report last spring estimated that City of Toronto would eventually need 15 new shelters to address overcrowding in some of its facilities and the closing of other outdated shelters such as Seaton House in the coming years. Despite wanting adequate housing for the homeless, housing advocates worry about these less fortunate falling through the cracks or being sent to far-away facilities in the suburbs.
Drastic reduction of emergency shelter beds with the narrow objective of reducing transiency on the streets in the All Saints’ neighbourhood reminds one of the short-sighted “de-institutionalization” of large mental health hospitals in the 1970’s. Those days there was little to no assistance for its former residents in finding other housing arrangements. Much of that population has ended up on the streets, relying on shelter spaces or perishing in the extreme conditions.
The worry is that now, just as then, such a sharp reduction the number of available beds will scatter the homeless from the centrally located services which support them within walking distance of where they shelter. The less fortunate either fall through the cracks or find themselves sent to far-away facilities in the suburbs distant from their other supports of mental health workers, addiction counsellors, employment agencies, and social agencies. Seaton House originally opened its doors in 1931 during the Great Depression as a shelter for older men who were no longer employable. It continues to represent this group today, with the average client age being 57.
Current members of All Saints’ congregation reside at Seaton House and at the neighbouring Schoolhouse. The City’s plans for their housing mean uncertainty for them as it would not only uproot them from them from their current address and familiar habitation but also jeopardizes their networks of friends and associations that they have long known and would displace them from their place of worship.
315 Dundas Street East (The southeast corner of Sherbourne & Dundas) Toronto, ON M5A 2A2
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