03/08/2012 08:16 EST | Updated 05/08/2012 05:12 EDT

Homeless shelter that allows alcohol to close

Advocates for the homeless say shutting down one of the three shelters in Toronto that allows alcohol would be a mistake.

A rally was held Wednesday night outside the 55-bed facility on George Street, which is known as the School House.

The non-profit organization that runs the downtown shelter, Dixon Hall, said the building is not equipped to handle the aging clientele and it is time for a change in direction.

"There are about 35 people left in the shelter and we'll be working with them and the city collaboratively to assure that each of those people find appropriate accommodations," said David Reycraft, a director with Dixon Hall.

Outreach worker Zoe Dodd said the city should set up a similar facility because many shelters will not accept people who have been drinking. She considers it an essential service to prevent deaths.

"People do need a safe space where they can consume and that they are not going to freeze to death on the streets when they are drinking," she said. "And people do have issues with alcohol. That is a realistic thing."

Brian DuBourdieu said for men like him, both alcoholic and homeless, the shelter has been a life saver.

"There is not enough of these," he said. "We've got so many people with alcohol and drug problems on the streets."

Dodd said if Dixon Hall does not want to operate the shelter anymore, the city is responsible for replacing the shelter.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents the downtown ward where the shelter is located, said that is not the direction city staff are suggesting.

"What they have been advocating is that the new model of care is to provide housing," she said.

Wong-Tam met with homeless advocates to talk about the shelter closing but the two sides did not come to an agreement.

No date has been given for the closure.