‘Normalcy’ faces Toronto budget cuts

A local church parishioner thinks the looming closure of Bellwoods House, a long-term shelter for women, is a bad and poorly-timed decision.

Speaking Wednesday at a Toronto City Hall public forum, before city council’s budget committee, Elizabeth Magner told local politicians the shelter is a vital resource for women in crisis.

“This is their home and to have this hanging over their head … just before Christmas, is very stressful,” Magner said.

“Most women … are looking forward to their future, when they can live on their own, and that’s part of what Bellwoods does. It integrates women back into the neighborhood.”

Magner, whose church stands adjacent to Bellwoods House, compares the shelter to a different, “institutional” one near Bathurst Street and Dundas Avenue.

“It’s noisy; you can’t sleep at night because of the noise and it doesn’t have a home atmosphere,” she said.

“At Bellwoods House, they contribute to the upkeep of the house. Everyone has chores and they’re very proud of it. It’s normalcy.”

Magner was speaking because many of the women of Bellwoods House are hiding from abusive relationships; going public could endanger their lives.

“Some of them need to be protected because they’ve fled an abusive domestic situation and they fear for their lives,” she said.

Councillor Joe Mihevc suggested that without the city’s funding, the church could fund the shelter and ‘pick up the slack’.

“Some folks would say this is a role for the religious sector and for the social service sector, but not a role for government,” Mihevc responded.

Magner says that the closure will save the city $240,000 in its first year. But she points out that the church pays for the utilities and repairs at the shelter, and she thinks that’s fair.

“Personally, I think that’s a really good deal for housing these vulnerable women,” she said.