NEWS

Protesters tossed from city hall meeting

05/23/2012 03:12 EDT | Updated 07/23/2012 05:12 EDT

A few dozen anti-poverty protesters briefly shut down a committee meeting at city hall Wednesday morning over the planned closure of downtown Toronto men's shelter.

The members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty wanted to speak at a meeting of council's community development and recreation committee about the planned closure of the Schoolhouse Shelter, a 55-bed men's shelter on George Street near Gerrard Street East that allows drinking on site as part of a harm reduction strategy.

The activists got angry when they were told they wouldn't have a chance to speak, and were forcibly escorted out by security.

The three-storey shelter is owned by the city but operated by Dixon Hall, a social services agency. Dixon Hall in 2009 said it no longer wanted to operate the shelter and the city then decided it could no longer afford to keep it open.

"These are supposed to be the people who are supposed to be supporting us. And they can't even support a 55-bed shelter that's been there for 30 years?" said Gaetan Heroux, a spokesman for OCAP. Heroux said the city should take over the shelter.

There were no arrests and the meeting resumed. The councillors on the committee voted to defer the matter until June 26 so deputants will be able to speak about the shelter.

The shelter currently has 28 residents and has stopped accepting new ones.

The local councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam, says the site is not adequate anymore and the city is working to find permanent housing for the residents.

The building needs $300,000 worth of repairs.

City staff say the site was used as housing instead of as an emergency shelter for many of those living there, and that more than half the clients had stayed there for more than a year.

Staff also said there are problems with the building, including a lack of accessibility for people with mobility issues and not enough space for harm reduction programming.

The city would have to fork out at least an additional $225,000 annually in order to make those upgrades, staff estimate.

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