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The Globe and Mail

Youth homeless shelter could face eviction

Andrew MacDonald is general manager of Eva's Phoenix, a shelter for homeless and at-risk youth in Toronto's west end.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

For 11 years, the spotless confines of Eva's Phoenix, a downtown youth homeless shelter, has housed more than 1,000 of the GTA's most vulnerable young people and garnered support from international power brokers such as Richard Branson, Gerry Schwartz and Lady Gaga.

But just four months after the shelter celebrated the grand opening of a new wing - the Buzz Hargrove Youth Training Centre - the land it sits on was added to a list of more than 22 properties the City of Toronto is considering in a selloff of assets.

That number reflects a likely increase in city properties being mulled over for possible sale since Mayor Rob Ford swept to power last year.

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Mr. Ford's campaign included a pledge to sell up to $1-billion in surplus city assets over four years, but it's unclear whether the increase reflects a mayoral directive.

"Our 2012 budget is going to be a challenge and we are looking at all of our options and taking into consideration all the surplus properties we have," said Adrienne Batra, the mayor's press secretary.

The inclusion of Eva's Phoenix on the list has dropped a pall of uncertainty over a state-of-the-art facility whose model has been celebrated and duplicated across the country.

Representatives from Eva's Phoenix learned the site was being considered for redevelopment during a meeting with city officials earlier this year, but restrained from taking the matter public to avoid crossing city politicians.

"We met with the city and they informed us we're being considered for classification as surplus property," said Maria Crawford, executive director of Eva's Initiative, the organization that runs Eva's Phoenix. "We don't have any more answers than that."

For $2 a year, Eva's Initiative leases two city properties along Ordnance Street, located in a pie-shaped piece of industrial land adjacent to three rapidly developing downtown neighbourhoods - King West, Liberty Village and the condo developments spreading west from Fort York.

The group's innovative Phoenix facility opened there in 2000 and espoused a three-pronged approach to youth homelessness: House individuals for up to a year, put them to work and give them an education. Residents live in townhouse-style apartments, work in a print shop and take classes in a building covered with plaques and pictures highlighting support from the likes of RBC, Canadian Auto Workers, Frank Stronach, Richard Branson and Lady Gaga.

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"They are completely unique in the city," said Mike Layton, councillor for the surrounding ward. "We can't just take away the site so they have no home in the city. They know I'm in their corner."

A potential eviction remains a long way off. The two properties - 11 Ordnance St. and 35 Strachan Ave. - are flagged in a Feb. 24 document circulated to city agencies, city staff and nine councillors bearing the subject line "City-Owned Properties Being Considered for Transfer/Turnover to Build Toronto."

Build Toronto is the city's arm's-length real-estate and development corporation.

Activity at Build Toronto has accelerated considerably since Mr. Ford's inauguration. While council rarely transferred more than 10 properties at a time to Build Toronto, the new document suggests more than 20.

"The fact that this hyperactive process could close down Eva's Phoenix is a significant concern," said Councillor Adam Vaughan. "There's an active appraisal of real estate going on that could undermine a really important piece of social-service provision."

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