Then and Now

by | Oct 28, 2016 | Blog | 0 comments

When I first visited All Saints’ Church it was 1976, and the drop-ins were run by independent boards of directors of two organizations, the Open Door and the Friendship Centre.  These served predominantly the residents of rooming houses in the area.  The pastor who had invited them to set up the drop-ins here, the Rev. Norman Ellis, spoke of the service the drop-ins provided as a “parlour space for those who had no space where they lived to entertain their friends.”  The people who came to the drop-ins were often seniors.  Some were veterans of the First and Second World Wars.  There were more men than women.

The deinstitutionalization of mental health hospitals had begun. The drop-ins began to have visitors whose mental disturbances were untreated and unsupported.  The Arab oil boycott that had happened in 1973 had caused oil prices to shoot upwards.  Middle-incomed suburbanites suddenly found a large stock of housing in the inner city near their workplaces that was very affordable because it was older and had deteriorated.  But new owners could purchase the housing, reconvert it back to single-family dwellings, and refurbish the new homes for a cost equivalent to what they paid for new housing in the suburbs.  And they would save the cost of transportation and time they paid in commuting. Gentrification of the downtown neighbourhoods had begun.

However, this meant the displacement of the former roomers who had lived in these homes.  In 1976 those of us working with the community regretted the loss of the stable neighbourhoods that had long been the residence of these former rooming house tenants.  We imagined that the displaced tenants would find rental housing elsewhere  — more expensive, perhaps, and without their old friends and networks.  We never imagined that the massive scale of the gentrification would mean that former roomers would find no place affordable in which they could live.  Suddenly they had become homeless.

When I arrived back at All Saints’ to become its Executive Director in 1982 after Mr. Ellis, the winter of 1981 had found up to 200 people a night sleeping on the floor of the church and parish hall.  The daytime drop-ins had suddenly become full-time shelters from the cold for those who had no place else to rest and sleep.  The daytime operations continued to be run, not so well as before given the new demands on them, by the organizations that had first brought them into All Saints’ buildings.  The nighttime operations had begun to be operated by the recently-formed All Saints’ Church-Community Centre of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto.

When I left the position of Executive Director in 1990, All Saints’ had developed a new building on its premises and a new non-profit housing corporation to manage the housing for 61 men and women who had once slept on the floor of the old buildings.  The Church-Community Centre itself now operated a rooming house at the back of the parish that continued to house women for nearly 20 years until its closing in 2008.  The daytime drop-ins continue to run independently of the Anglican Church, but their increasingly bad management led to the termination of their licenses to use church space.

So now I have returned to All Saints’ as its Acting Director to find an operation that seems somewhat like what I had left behind but really very different.  It has the same facilities, the old church from 1874 and the parish hall/education centre build ten years later.  There are the drop-ins, but they  no longer serve quite such a transient community as they did when the homeless surged in numbers in the late 1970’s and early ‘80s. The long-term housing that All Saints’ had come to provide now has stabilized housing for a number of low-income people who again use the drop-ins as their social space.

There is still the worshipping community but it no longer has the numbers of wealthier supporters from outside the local neighbourhood.  Worshippers now most often are local residents and even some of the homeless who can find the opportunity to come on Sundays in the midst of their daily struggles to find shelter and food.  Worship happens on Sunday mornings at 11 am just as it has for 142 years.  There is also a bible study and sing-along that happens on Thursday mornings, and a theology study group that happens here once a month.

Most importantly, the daytime drop-ins now have the assurance of reliable management through a licensing agreement with Margaret’s, with that agency’s long-time experience housing and support services for individuals facing mental health challenges.  Their drop-in at 323 Dundas Street East is  open Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 7:00am – 12:00pm and on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7:00am -11:00am.  It provides daily meals, crisis intervention and mental health care.  In January and February Margaret’s Toronto East Drop-In Centre is open 24/7 and as well during Toronto Public Health’s “Extreme Cold Weather Alerts” so that the homeless are able to find warmth, hot meals and beverages and support services including referrals to shelters.

Our main drop hosted by All Saints’ Church-Community Centre staff in the church itself is for people who live in the shelter system and nearby rooms and apartments so that they may have a safe place during the day to socialize with each other.  This drop-in gives room and support for people in t heir developing relationships with staff and with each other.  Staff, including a registered nurse, work alongside members of the community to help foster social inclusion, equality, and mutual respect.  This drop-in is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday 8am-4pm Wednesday 10:30am-4pm.

All Saints Women’s Drop-Ins include a Community Women’s Program  on Thursdays from 1:30pm – 3:30pm where the women of the community enjoy a light meal, socialize with each other and participate in activities with the assistance of volunteers in arts and crafts, games, beading, nails, poetry, creative writing, and wellness workshops. Our Friday Women’s Drop in provides a safe and supportive space for women (trans-inclusive) engaged in sex work and drug use.  It stresses a harm reduction and human rights based approach to work with women.  It is centred on a nutritious meal cooked by volunteers and staff.  It also offers the support of a peer worker who has lived this experience, as well as informal counselling and crisis intervention support by our social worker.

Brad Lennon, Acting Director


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