News Mar 20, 2019 by Amanda Persico YorkRegion.com
Built in the 1980s, Porter Place is showing its age.
Owned by York Region and operated by Blue Door, the men’s emergency shelter in East Gwillimbury has outgrown its outdated roots.
One of the largest shelters in the region, with enough space for 30 emergency beds, it still runs off a septic tank and was built before Wi-Fi and broadband services.
“It’s an old-fashioned shelter,” said the region’s community and health services commissioner, Katherine Chislett.
“It’s past its useful life. In the ’80s, having 30 beds was great. It was a place to get a meal and sleep at night. New facilities have come a long way.”
Regional council recently added close to $15 million as a placeholder in the regional budget for the building of a new men’s shelter.
Construction is still several years away, Chislett said, as the region has only started the site selection process and hopes to purchase land in the next two years.
“We will not close Porter Place until there is one to open,” Chislett said. “We’re not going to create that stress for people.”
Once a location is selected, the region will set up a community liaison committee to work with surrounding neighbours, she added.
Chislett is looking to replicate Belinda’s Place, which provides emergency and transitional housing and other supports and services for women, but for men.
“We’re looking at more of a modern model,” Chislett said. “It’s not just about emergency shelter. It’s about helping people settle into housing.”
Plans for the new building include adding more shelter beds, transitional housing options and space for programs and other support services, such as employment and mental-health services and a drop-in centre for men at risk of homelessness in the community.
Homelessness is more than a housing issue, said Michael Braithwaite, the new executive director of Blue Door.
“In the 80s, it was a panic approach to get people off the street,” he said. “At the time, it was a necessary response, but we now know it’s not the only response.”
There are three sides to homelessness, he added, prevention, reaction and aftercare.
Prevention is supporting those vulnerable to losing their home; reaction is shelter beds; and aftercare is offering support to keep housing — and all three need to be part of the new shelter, Braithwaite said.
Currently, there are 25 rooms at Porter Place, five of which are double occupancy, with little space for programming or other housing services.
“Space is an issue,” said Alex Cheng, client services director with Blue Door. “And now we know, the (homeless) issue is much more complicated, support is much more diverse.”
Along with lack of space, proximity to transit is another factor in the push for building a new shelter. And location is key.
“Porter Place is isolated, away from the community,” Chislett said. “It was a different way of thinking.”
Porter Place is located along Hwy. 11, far removed from transit, social and medical services.
The closest bus stop is located at the meandering intersection of Yonge and Old Yonge streets in Holland Landing, which still requires someone to cross Hwy. 11 to get to the shelter.
Back in 2016, pedestrian was struck and killed crossing Hwy. 11. He was a client of the secluded shelter.
Amanda has been a reporter with York Region Media Group for more than 10 years. The mother of two and Newmarket native has covered a variety of topics including lifestyle news, arts and culture, as well as municipal news for East Gwillimbury, Markham and Aurora. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amanda.persico.3
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