Controversial Whitby homeless shelter appoints service provider

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Published February 20, 2024 at 1:51 pm

1635 Dundas Whitby homeless shelter
Via Google Maps.

The controversial homeless shelter set to open at 1635 Dundas St. is one step closer to opening with the appointment of the organization that’ll run the place.

On Feb. 16, Durham Region, which bought the shelter, announced it had hired the Christian Faith Outreach Centre to run the shelter once it opens in winter 2024. “CFOC is committed to providing safe, supervised, housing-focused shelters and services for people experiencing homelessness and partnering with the community to end chronic homelessness in Durham Region,” the Region wrote.

The Region bought the site back in August “to help address the urgent need for housing and services.” The building is a heritage property constructed for farmer Jeremiah Lick. By the 1950s the place had been converted into a nursing home and was ultimately known as Sunnycrest Nursing Home.

The home was shuttered by Lakeridge Health in 2020 after a scathing report found it had caused “actual harm” to residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sunnycrest lost 34 residents in the COVID-19 outbreak thanks to inconsistent infection prevention and control practices, lack of access to personal protection equipment, high-risk medication being administered two hours late and other transgressions.

All patients were removed from the home, and it has sat empty ever since. In the years since homelessness in Durham has greatly worsened.

Durham Region operates a “by-name list” to track the people in all eight of its municipalities who are currently unhoused and using Regional services. The list provides a conservative estimate of how many homeless people are living in the Region as it does not include those outside of regional services.

Social Services have tracked how many people in regional housing services get into and stay in a home of their own. Social Services generally reports a high “outflow” rate of people leaving the list, which indicates their support gets and keeps people housed.

However, the by-name list has grown steadily in recent years as more people are becoming homeless than can be housed. Back at the tail-end of 2021, the by-name list was up to around 100 people though a recent point in time count indicated there were 270 people on the street the previous summer. The numbers fluctuate with the seasons with higher rates in summer compared to winter.

These numbers were cause for concern for Social Services at the time being quite high on average in the face of a then-expected loss of COVID-19 funding. However, things have only worsened since, with the Region reporting 218 people on the streets in December 2022 and 300 people on the by-name list in August 2023.

By fall, Regional support had been exhausted by a high inflow of new residents. “We cannot keep up with this demand. We have exhausted the capacity in our system and any funding we had available to support newcomers,” Regional Chair John Henry said at the time. This created a greater risk that newcomers would become homeless when they arrived in Durham.

Due to the ever-worsening crisis, Whitby and the Region began to look at 1635 Dundas as the perfect location for a low-barrier shelter and committed to a 45-bed facility. However, many in the community did not agree with the idea.

Public engagement sessions quickly turned almost violent with one man physically threatening Mayor Elizabeth Roy and Councillor Maleeha Shaheed.

This prompted a condemnation from Roy who said, “I am deeply concerned by the behaviour of some attendees, which included yelling, physical intimidation, and offensive comments about people experiencing homelessness, and members of council. This is a very emotional issue and there will be differing viewpoints. But the behaviour of some last night is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.”

Some on the town council also rejected the idea with councillors attempting to delay the project. Ultimately the Region and the town reached a draft agreement with additional concessions to address these concerns. However, the negotiation did end up pushing the project back. Despite pushback, the region remained committed to the shelter.

“This building provides 45 shelter beds to help meet our community’s needs. The site will remain open during the day, allowing people to stay inside and work toward their goals. The shelter follows established intake processes and best practices, with wraparound supports, and an indoor environment that allows for a full range of programming,” they described

Commissioner of Social Services Stella Danos-Papaconstantinou said, “Now that Christian Faith Outreach Centre has been selected as the service provider, we are one step closer to opening 1635 Dundas Street East and helping people to get back on their feet. This project provides an opportunity for people who are experiencing homelessness to receive support and meet their goals in a healthy environment.”

The centre concurred saying it is “honoured to have the opportunity to operate a low-barrier, which does not mean no-barrier, shelter in the Town of Whitby. Recognizing the critical need for additional compassionate and accessible spaces, we stand united in our commitment to fostering a positive impact on the community,” per Marla Walters.

 

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