Posted: January 26th, 2023. By: Melissa Wallace, yorkregion.com, Original Article.
Emergency and transitional site was selected due to its proximity to services, accessibility via transit, Blue Door CEO says.
Community members packed Aurora Town Hall on Jan. 24 regarding a proposed men’s emergency and transitional housing facility at 14452 Yonge St., south of Henderson Drive, east of Bathurst Street and north of Bloomington Road.
The five-storey facility will replace Porter Place, a shelter operated by Blue Door in East Gwillimbury. Slated for completion by the spring of 2025, it will have 37 emergency housing and 18 transitional housing units.
“This is not just a cut-and-paste building from another place,” said Melissa McEnroe, affordable housing development, Housing Services, York Region. “We are using the best research and the best practices to ensure that the project we’re putting here meets the complex needs of those who will be receiving care.”
She added the new facility, which will be built beside the new Henderson Sewage Pumping Station on property owned by the region, will bring community partners together to support men to find and keep housing, as well as prevent homelessness before it happens.
Area residents opposed to the project, however, raised concerns over safety, loss of property value and what they called a “lack of transparency” about the location.
“As a parent of a young family, what we residents want to see is a safe community and one that is thought out and well planned,” said Quasi Sodiya, a resident who lives close to the proposed facility.
“We’re not against the shelter or the social need, but we’re really concerned about the proposed site. It’s just going to be plopped in the middle of a forest area surrounded by detached homes … It doesn’t pass the common sense test.”
Many residents said they found it insulting that they only found out about the facility within the past week.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the people here had no idea (about this),” said Roy Cohen, president of the Aurora Youth Soccer Club and a 40-year Aurora resident.
Cohen wanted to know how the region would be vetting the men who would be staying at the facility and implored council to step up as “gatekeepers of the community.”
“It’s abominable, shameful that you would put them beside the waste sewage pumping station and train tracks that I hear from where I live,” said Cohen. “This is the wrong location.”
Not everyone, however, is opposed to the idea.
Lyndsay Breedon, a 22-year-old student at Seneca’s social service worker program and a longtime resident, said the community should feel proud that the town was chosen to help individuals in need.
“Homelessness is an issue in Aurora, it’s not new. It’s everywhere, and we need somewhere for them to go, it’s not safe,” said Breedon.
“I understand your fear, but they’re not inherently bad because of the situation they’re in,” she added. “They’re in it for situations out of their control … They are our community. If you got to know some of the people, you wouldn’t be scared. It’s up to us to help them out or else no one’s going to.”
Blue Door CEO Michael Braithwaite said there is no “perfect spot” for emergency housing, but the proposed site is more central to services and allows access to transit across the region.
“When people say, ‘We don’t really want these people here,’ well, they don’t want to be there either,” said Braithwaite. “No one has a yearning to be in emergency housing.”
But he added the ways in which individuals have benefited from such projects, including more than 200 people at risk of experiencing homelessness finding meaningful work in the trades through Blue Door’s Construct program, which now has a facility in Aurora, and that Blue Door has also housed 1,600 people over the past five years.
Council agreed to host a second public planning meeting at a future date to ensure every resident felt their concerns were heard and to allow more time to work out the details with the region.