Massey Commons—Transitional housing

Mayor Justin Towndale
Massey Commons—Transitional housing

For this month’s column, I wanted to take a moment to comment on the Massey Commons (formerly Place) project. As you will know, the project has evolved since its original inception last year. This includes a slight change to the name, as there is already  business called Massey Place in Cornwall. This was done to avoid confusion.

Since making the plans public, I’ve heard both positive and negative feedback about the project. At this time, I’d have to say that the majority comments that I have heard, are in fact, positive. There have been some concerns from those who live in the neighbourhood and we held a public information session on February 22nd in order to engage with residents from this area. As I had indicated prior to the meeting, I was not able to attend due to board meetings in Toronto. I had made staff aware of this prior to scheduling the session.

While City administration did attempt to address many of the comments made at the meeting, I am aware that it did become heated at some points. It reminded me of the public information session that was held when the Aquatic Centre was proposed. Residents packed Salon B to voice their opposition to that project as well. Fast forward many years later, and the Aquatic Centre is a valued asset in our community.

Now while, I’m not naïve enough to believe that an indoor pool is the same as transitional housing, I believe that the same will be true for Massey Commons. There still seems to be a misunderstanding of what Massey Commons is, so I want to clear this up. It is not a homeless shelter. It is transitional housing. There is a significant difference.

Shelters are usually congregate settings where individuals are able to stay overnight in order to avoid being outside during inclement weather. They are typically not designed to provide services, security, or resources to help those who need it. Transitional housing is just that, housing. It is apartment style living which is ultimately meant to be temporary. What do we mean by temporary? Estimates could be months to years depending on the individual situation of each person. Shelters on the other hand are more of a day to day, or night to night facility. In the case of shelters, it can be difficult to keep track of who is there and who is not. In this case, we will know who is living on site.

Massey Commons will provide access to resources, such as our Housing Rapid Response Team, as well as office space for services such as mental health, medical health, and addiction services. With the relocation of our Housing Rapid Response Team, there will be staff on site during the day and there are plans to have security on site as well.

The CAO has met with the CSDCEO and received feedback that they were supportive of the project as it will show students the value of helping others.

I want to reiterate that we are taking the concerns of the neighbourhood seriously, and we are listening to residents. However, at the same time, many concerns that we are hearing seemingly stem from a misunderstanding of the project, or stereotyping of those who are experiencing homelessness. I’ve been made aware that at the public information sessions, someone made a claim that Massey Commons will have drug use and sex offenders. This is a perfect example of stereotyping and judgement that is not acceptable or based in fact. Chief Shawna Spowart commented on the overall decrease of calls to Parisien Manor.

A recent Citizen of the Year, Stephen Douris, who has experienced homelessness, was booed. This is shameful. Who of us is in a position to judge him, unless we have experienced homelessness, ourselves? Who of us are in a position to judge any of these individuals who are experiencing homelessness?

As mentioned, I have received a few calls and emails from residents on the subject and the opposition seems to have a couple of common themes. One of them is stereotyping, which I touched on. Many of the individuals that we have moved from the encampments to Parisien Manor or other permanent housing, are working poor. They have difficulty with rents in the current market, or cannot afford first and last month’s rent. They have desires to cause any trouble and only looking for a safe place to live.

The second theme is that of NIMBYism. I know some people are uspet that I use this term, but the reality is that many of the comments are in fact not-in-my-backyard. On this note, when I lived in Toronto, my condo, which I owned, was 145m away from The Salvation Army Gateway, a 200 bed emergency shelter. It was to my south. I was 96m away from another Salvation Army location, the Toronto Harbour Light Ministries, which provided transitional housing, addiction services, mental health supports, and more. This was to my north. In my four years in that location, I had zero issues. My condo had no security staff, no concierge staff. Truth be told, I had more issues when I was living in residence as a student at the University of Toronto. So, I do have experience living in a neighbourhood day to day with very comparable facilities nearby. It did not affect my daily life, I did not feel unsafe, and my property value did not decrease, it only increased.

I do believe that Massey Commons is in the right location, and will provide the right services to those who need them. This project will help contribute to the housing security, wellbeing, and safety of our residents for the future.

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