Region promising public engagement after Whitby homeless shelter meeting turns violent

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Published September 5, 2023 at 10:37 am

The Region of Durham is promising public engagement on the 45-bed homeless shelter coming to Whitby after the issue boiled over to near violence at a meeting at Whitby’s Centennial Hall last week.

A public meeting last Wednesday on the new homeless shelter coming to the former Sunnycrest Nursing Home on Dundas Street turned ugly when one man threatened both Whitby Mayor Elizabeth Roy and Councillor Maleeha Shaheed, though no one was injured as security responded quickly.

Roy called on the Whitby community to be “respectful” after the meeting while acknowledging the shelter is a “very emotional issue” and that there will be differing viewpoints. “But the behaviour of some last night is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.”

Roy, who reminded residents at the meeting the proposed shelter is a Regional project, said she heard “loud and clear” from residents that they want more structured public meetings where they can share their feedback, prompting Durham Region to state that Council and staff are “committed” to public engagement.

“We feel strongly that respectful, meaningful, two-way engagement is essential to this process,” the Region said in a statement, while admitting the purchase of the former nursing home at 1635 Dundas Street was completed through a confidential report, “so as not to interfere with commercial negotiations.”

There is already approval for the temporary shelter for 45 residents to open this fall. Unlike other shelters, this site offers enough space for people to stay indoors during the day – even during cleaning. Service users will have access to a bed, food services, and support services within the facility.

The goal, the Region declared, is to ensure people can stay inside, rather than being pushed out onto the streets daily.

“You have raised questions and concerns,” the statement to area residents continued. “Be assured that we continue to listen. The input and concerns that were brought forward will be considered with the development of services to be offered at the site.”

Durham Region has promised public meetings on the shelter in October to “continue this dialogue” with the community and help shape the supports available to those in need.

In the meantime, residents can submit comments on the Region’s online platform and complete a survey until September 27.

There is growing demand for housing and homelessness services across the Region, with homelessness numbers growing by 144 per cent in Whitby alone in just one year.

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