The city of Toronto's push to eliminate a motel strip in Scarborough as shelter for homeless families has hit a snag in a trendy downtown neighbourhood.
Some residents of Riverdale, a neighbourhood of century-old, renovated houses, are up in arms over a deal the city has to buy a retirement home near the intersection of Broadview and Danforth Avenues and convert it into a seven-storey, 160-bed shelter for homeless families.
Last week, the city held what was supposed to be an information session for the immediate neighbours. It turned into a packed and emotional meeting. Angry residents blasted city officials for dumping another social-service institution in their midst, saying the neighbourhood has many group homes.
"People who complain are called NIMBYs -- not in my back yard," said Barbara Silverstein, whose back yard looks out onto the seniors' home. "But for us, it should be: Not always in my backyard."
Last week the city left notices about the information session at houses lining the two streets next to the retirement home on Broadview Avenue.
It was regarded as short notice and did not reach a large portion of Riverdale residents convinced that a homeless shelter will alter the character of their quiet, close-knit neighbourhood and of their small, public elementary school.
Frankland Community School is already full, with about 440 students. To add about 100 more children, especially students who may only spend a month or two there, will disrupt the education of the other children, neighbours insist.
"I was accused at the meeting of trying to screen kids, but I know it's taking the school and turning into something else and it affects every family in that school," said Laurie McGugan, who volunteered there for years. "What the city did was look at the building without ever looking at the school that was going to take these kids."
Next week, city council will vote on the proposal to buy the seniors' home. If the deal goes ahead, the building will be renovated and open as a shelter in 2003.
Councillor Jack Layton is in a delicate position with an election two months away. He is a long-time champion of the homeless but he also represents the disgruntled Riverdale neighbours on city council.
He said yesterday that there was an urgent need for more shelters for families, with more than 1,000 homeless families crowded into Toronto motel rooms and another 300 families from the city shipped to motels as far away as Belleville.
While he will advise council to vote in favour of buying the property, he said there was plenty of room to accommodate the wishes of fearful Riverdale residents.
"I think the city should purchase the building," he said. "But we're not going to send the kids to a school that's already completely jammed full. We'll find answers on all these things."