Whiby homeless shelter meeting postponed for further negotiations
Published October 5, 2023 at 4:45 pm
The saga of the proposed Whitby homeless shelter at 1635 Dundas St. continues with the delay of the second of two public planning meetings. The delay is meant to allow further negotiations between the Town and Durham Region about the 45-bed facility.
The shelter has been a major point of contention in town since the Region’s surprise announcement in August that the historic farmhouse-turned-long-term-care-home would serve as a new low-barrier shelter. The site was formerly Sunnycrest Nursing Home but has sat empty since they were forced to shut down for mismanaging the COVID-19 pandemic.
During that time, homelessness rates have gone through the roof both in Durham Region as a whole and in Whitby specifically. The Region found they had roughly 300 people on a “by-name” list of unsheltered people enrolled in social services.
This growth in the unsheltered population has recently been exacerbated by the exhaustion of funding used to settle new asylum seekers in the area. Due the this latest crisis, Ajax’s homeless population increased 40 per cent overnight. The province has sent some funds to get the program running again.
Following this recent emergency, Durham and Whitby joined forces in a homelessness task force to establish better facilities in town, including 1635 Dundas, a family shelter at 316 Colborne St. and innovative food banks among other priorities.
The 1635 Dundas announcement prompted swift backlash from some in the community. Detractors immediately began a campaign to convince the Region to reverse course on the shelter. Many feel the low barrier model is too and will bring in criminality. Others were more concerned they were not adequately consulted before the announcement.
This reaction led to an ugly scene at a later public engagement session about the shelter with one man even trying to physically intimidate Mayor Elizabeth Roy and Councillor Maleeha Shahid, leading Roy to comment, “I am deeply concerned by the behaviour of some attendees, which included yelling, physical intimidation, and offensive comments about people experiencing homelessness, and members of council.”
The town and region later committed to two more public meetings scheduled for Oct. 3 and Oct. 10. The Oct. 3 meeting was much more civil than the first, though opposition to the shelter remained prominent. Some on council proposed suspending development on the shelter. However, their motion was delayed by a slim 5-4 vote until Oct. 31 to allow further negotiations between the town and the region.
This is similar to the deferral of a similar shelter in Beaverton, which many in town felt was too large for the small community. In that case, town opposition led to several concessions from the region but the delay caused a significant budget increase.
Around the Oct. 3 meeting, Durham Chief Administrator Elaine Baxter-Trahair submitted a draft agreement which included some concessions regarding the town’s concerns. The town and the region have since been at work further discussing what the final agreement woul look like.
As a result, on Oct. 5, the Region and Whitby announced they would delay the Oct. 10 meeting to allow more time to negotiate. While the Region remains committed to opening the shelter, they have agree not to until the agreement is finalized.
The parties have not indicated when the next meeting will be held but said they will announce more details in time.
“We have heard the community concerns and are taking the time to work with the Town of Whitby on an agreement around 1635 Dundas. We will reschedule the meeting for a later date to hear from the community,” the Region wrote.insauga's Editorial Standards and Policies advertising