Providing much-needed support to homeless families is far more important than building condos.
Bernnitta Hawkins, the executive director of East Toronto’s Red Door Family Shelter, doesn’t mince words when discussing the battle her organization may soon face to maintain its longtime shelter for homeless families at 875 Queen St. E., just west of Logan Avenue, on the site of WoodGreen United Church.
For more than 30 years, The Red Door has operated a shelter for homeless families in Leslieville serving more than 500 families each year. On any given night, at least half of the facility’s 106 beds are occupied by children. The non-profit also provides a range of supports to help marginalized families remain safely housed.
However, Red Door’s east-end home is facing a very uncertain future as the property that houses its longtime Queen Street East home is currently in receivership following a real estate deal involving a private company.
In 2010, the non-profit had hoped to purchase the property outright from the United Church of Canada but was unable to secure government funding.
Instead, an agreement was reached in June 2011 to purchase the site at a “preferred” rate of $4.25 million with the promise of a $6-million family shelter in its redevelopment.
Those plans changed in early 2013 when The Red Door and the company agreed to relocate the family shelter from 875 Queen St. E. to a former Salvation Army residence for teen moms at 450 Pape Ave. Red Door would be able to remain in its longtime home until the new space was ready.
Unfortunately, financing for that deal fell through last October and The Red Door Family Shelter, which contributed $50,000 to the endeavour, learned a month later the property had gone into receivership.
Receiver Harlan Schonfeld of Schonfeld Associates Inc. has since agreed to require prospective purchasers of the site to extend Red Door’s lease on Queen Street East until March 31, 2015.
Another developer (Harhay Developments) has already expressed interest in purchasing the property and building condos on the site. However, there are no concrete plans to include The Red Door as part of that project.
“We want to know that we won’t be left homeless if a new deal with a developer comes through. … We want to continue to provide support to over 500 families each year,” Hawkins said Tuesday morning, adding the best option is for The Red Door to remain at 875 Queen St. E.
“We’re currently working to build community support to get the receiver and the (other) developer to hear our proposal. … They have an opportunity to do something important for The Red Door and the city of Toronto.”
The Red Door Family Shelter, which has an administrative office on Carlaw Avenue and a private location second shelter for women and children fleeing violence, is also uncertain as to when it will get its $50,000 back.
“That money could be used to support our clients. We’re always raising money so we want the money paid back,” she said.
Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher is troubled by the situation.
“There’s been a terrible mess with all these real estate dealings gone wrong,” she said Tuesday afternoon, adding the 106 beds at The Red Door represent 20 per cent of the city-funded family shelter spaces in Toronto.
“It’s very concerning to me.”
A longtime Red Door supporter, the Ward 30 representative vowed to continue working to maintain the local shelter’s home in Leslieville.
“A lot of people love The Red Door. There’s so much support. It’s really something,” said Fletcher, encouraging everyone to “get out and support” the local organization.
“Many people will come to the table. To me, this is the Toronto way.”
The city’s Heritage Preservation Services is currently assessing the heritage value of the former WoodGreen United Church and Neighbourhood House at 875-877 Queen St. E. and is expected to report back this summer to Toronto and East York Community Council on whether it’s an appropriate site for heritage designation. This prominent local property has welcomed marginalized people from the neighbourhood since 1937 when Rev. Ray McCleary painted his door red as a sign women and children always had a safe space there.
Concerned residents were invited to attend an initial information meeting the evening of Tuesday, March 24 at Red Door’s offices at 21 Carlaw Ave.
The Red Door Family Shelter has organized an emergency community meeting on Monday, April 7 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Ralph Thornton Centre, 765 Queen St. E., in Riverside. All are welcome and encouraged to attend.
Supporters can also sign a petition to keep The Red Door in its longtime home by visiting www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/save-the-red-door. So far, more than 2,000 people have signed the petition.
Visit www.reddoorshelter.ca for more information about the Save the Red Door campaign.
-with files from TorStar News Service