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‘See them for the humans they are’: Advocates urge Aurora to approve controversial proposed men’s shelter at Feb. 13 planning meeting

February 12, 2024

Posted on: February 12th, 2024. Posted by: Lisa Queen, Original Article.

Worries include safety concerns, impact on environment and wildlife, declining property values.

A year after Aurora residents packed the council chambers to debate a proposed shelter for homeless men, with many voicing concerns, advocates for the facility are hoping the time is right to move forward with the project.

If approved, the emergency and transitional housing facility proposed by the Region of York at 14452 Yonge St. south of Industrial Parkway, would include 55 units, 29 of which would be emergency housing and 14 of which would be transitional housing, with a total of 68 beds.

The facility would replace the rundown Porter Place men’s emergency housing shelter in East Gwillimbury.

Following a community drop-in open house Jan. 29 at the Aurora Public Library, councillors will debate the issue at a planning meeting Feb. 13.

At last year’s meeting, many residents voiced concerns about the proposal, such as a lack of transparency with the process, safety concerns, negative impacts on the environment and wildlife, declining property values for neighbours and its close proximity to the Henderson Sewage Pumping Station.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission said the community’s fears are not a basis for rejecting the shelter.

At the same time, some residents urged council to approve the shelter, saying it would be a needed and dignified facility to support some of the community’s most vulnerable people.

Housing advocates are hoping councillors and the community will support the shelter.

“I believe there’s lots of good people in this community, it’s awesome in Aurora, and they will welcome this,” said Michael Braithwaite, CEO of Blue Door, the largest provider of emergency housing and support services in York Region, which is hoping to operate the Aurora shelter.

“We hope the community can get behind this and see past some of the challenges these individuals have and see them for the humans they are.”

The proposed location is the perfect spot for the shelter, Braithwaite said.

“It’s very secluded, it’s surrounded by trees, it will be fenced in, the design’s gorgeous, it’s dignified, it will serve the needs of today and into the future for men experiencing homelessness, which is one of the fastest growing groups experiencing homelessness,” he said. 

Braithwaite added the fact the land is owned by region makes it financially appealing for taxpayers.

“From the street, you won’t even know it’s here. Our nearest neighbours are pretty far. It has access to Yonge Street, which is beautiful. It gives them access to bus routes, to grocery stores, to employment, to support services, to health services, that kind of stuff. It makes sense here. It’s very, very central.”

Newmarket Mayor John Taylor, who is chair of Housing York, the Region of York’s housing company, which owns properties providing subsidized and market rents and owns the region’s emergency and transitional housing facilities, urges Aurora to approve the shelter.

“As a community and as a region, we need to decide if we’re going to meet the growing need to house people in a safe and respectful manner. It is my hope that the community of Aurora will rally to support the new shelter and transitional housing site proposed by the Region of York,” he said.

“Either we find the will and a way to move this project and other projects forward or eventually our streets and our parks will house those without shelter. Make no mistake about it, it is a choice between one or the other.”

Men who have used emergency and transitional housing in York Region say it provided them with a lifeline, according to Blue Door.

“On the streets, it was always live or die and I never knew what was going to happen next. Being here for a while now, I have time to think before making decisions and I am not as scared for my safety,” one man said.

“I spent years just feeling like I was drifting. This is the first time in a long time that I actually feel like I’m not just drifting, and I am actually making progress and reaching my goals,” another said.