Armory re-opens as shelter

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@idirect.com)
Thu, 24 Jun 1999 07:18:02 -0400


Armoury deal eases hostel crisis
Facility will be open to homeless for rest of year

By Jack Lakey
Toronto Star City Hall Bureau

Toronto's dire shortage of hostel beds is about to ease after the city
closed a deal to set up a temporary shelter at the Fort York Armoury until
the end of the year.

City hostel officials have been searching desperately for facilities that
could be used as hostel space since a temporary shelter at the armoury
closed June 1.

The situation became critical after a deal to locate a hostel at 307 Lake
Shore Blvd. E. collapsed several weeks ago, forcing the city to use Metro
Hall as a temporary shelter.

But the federal government has agreed to allow part of the armoury to be
used for a 150-bed temporary shelter, a deal that was closed between Mayor
Mel Lastman and Defence Minister Art Eggleton.

City staff will begin moving cots and equipment into the armoury today so
the facility will be available for homeless people to sleep in tonight, said
John Jagt, Toronto's manager of hostel services.

``We're grateful that the military has agreed to turn their lives upside
down and give us this space,'' said Jagt, adding that ``this is a stop-gap,
but it's far better than the stop-gap we had.''

Lastman told reporters that by easing the immediate crisis, city officials
can move on to the bigger job of finding permanent locations for 450 new
hostel beds before the winter.

``The problem is resolved, at least for the next seven months,'' the mayor
said, after attending a funeral for Councillor Frank Faubert (Scarborough
Highland Creek), who died Sunday.

The temporary 40-bed shelter at Metro Hall was used for the final time last
night, Jagt said.

The hostel shortage became a crisis this spring after several facilities
being used as shelters, including the armoury, were closed.
On June 15, Council Fire, a 100-bed seasonal shelter on Parliament St.,
closed for the summer. Earlier, a temporary hostel at the old Doctors
Hospital was taken out of service.

Seaton House, Toronto's largest hostel for single men, will close in a few
weeks for renovations that will temporarily eliminate 150 of its 571 beds.

Shirley Hoy, Toronto's commissioner of community services, says the city
will pay the defence department about $10,000 a week to use the armoury,
about the same as it paid to use it for nearly two months this spring.

Lastman hinted that the cost to the city is steep, but there's no other
choice. ``I just wanted to make a deal and I knew the maximum we could
pay.''

Elaine McCardle, a spokesperson for Eggleton, said the armoury is big enough
to accommodate a 150-bed shelter without causing inconvenience to the armed
forces reservists and cadets who use it.

Eggleton ``is more than happy to assist the city of Toronto, until a more
permanent solution is found,'' said McCardle.

Councillor Jack Layton (Don River), who has spearheaded efforts for low-cost
housing at council, said: ``Maybe it's the beginning of a new partnership
involving the federal government in addressing this issue, and I think
that's something to celebrate.''


With files from Bruce DeMara